Monday, December 29, 2008

Iconic Films, Critiques and Is Will Smith an Actor or a Movie Star?

Don't you just hate it when you're trying to sleep but the light seeps through the curtains? I was up nearly the entire night because I couldn't fall sleep but then when I wanted to stay asleep my body insists on noticing the daylight and I woke up with less than my 6 hour minimum. Also I must have been coming out of REM because I could hear my mind thinking aloud about what I wanted to write. The words were spilling out much faster than I can write so I just had to take a breath and just...breathe...and write. 
I have Goldfrapp on loop because I am always inspired by one of the coolest bands out there that's also fronted by a woman and I love Allison's creativity and vision. If you've followed all of their 2nd & 3rd releases they were headed towards a dance/disco/glam rock cliff and about to fall over but they pulled it back just in time. No they didn't return to the film noir inspiration of their debut release but they've settled somewhere comfortably in the middle. Some have compared Seventh Tree to a cross between Cocteau Twins and the Beatles. There's a sophistication to their music that might get lost on the average listener who's been conditioned to a catchy but simple pop song (though those are not easy to write) with less structured vocals. They may not be a household name in the States but they totally rock! 

Okay this isn't supposed to be a review of Goldfrapp, but I assume not everyone has heard of them and I am happy to spread to word. Speaking of which, I made a point of discussing the latest Keanu film and I should state for the record that while I enjoyed it, a lot of other people did not. I never said I thought the movie was "good", just that it was a good update. There is a difference. There are some purists out there who like to herald classic movies in the canon of film history and look to the original as some sort of masterpiece while overlooking its flaws. Well "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was never really that great to begin with. It was made with the intention of affecting public opinion about having a United Nations. Now it wasn't an actual propaganda film but the filmmakers wanted to grease the wheels of discourse for good. I look at the stylized acting and the dated effects and I find it to be cute, but Kurosawa it ain't. 

Which brings me to Seven Pounds. It is the must-see movie of the holiday season. Will Smith brought his A-game to this role. I am reluctant to even talk about it in case everyone hasn't seen it yet. It's best to go in knowing nothing and the official trailer is intentionally vague. A lot of the reviews from the critics yet again miss the mark. One they don't know film history, two they don't value plot development and three they expect to be spoon feed obvious plot devices where you see the end coming from a mile away. The movie requires its audience to focus on the film and doesn't pander. If that seems strange to critics it's because Hollywood has long abandoned the art of making a classic film for modern audiences and instead calculates how many car crashes or fight scenes they can throw in. That and computer generated talking animals that always have blue eyes.

Will is a movie star and it took a movie star to get a film like this the greenlight. Otherwise it would have been some obscure French film - good - but relegated to the art house crowd. So he puts butts in seats. The thing is though, is that he's acting in this film as well. He's not the hero in the bombastic summer blockbuster and his superstar status almost gets in the way. His character is so emotionally tortured that it's uncomfortable to watch because as an audience you can actually feel it. His emotional distance is palpable and irritating but haven't you ever pushed people away when you're working through your issues? There's the ongoing tension because we don't know exactly why he is so tortured. We get glimpses and we know we'll find out all the details but we're almost afraid to. When the tears fall from his eyes on screen yours have already been falling in the audience. The sheer weight of the things he does to relieve people in distress is real - it is especially poignant and applicable to what's going in the world right now. This movie would not have had the same impact pre-9/11. 

Rosario Dawson did a great job as well. I do believe a woman who knows she's dying and is also lonely would reach out to someone displaying genuine kindness - especially if it was a handsome male - when her heart is open.  She asked all the right questions about his intentions and had every right to remove herself, but since his character came back I can also see why she accepted him on his terms. Plus it would've diminished what he did for her in the end. He really loved her! Yes, I'm still being vague. She had nothing to lose being so available to him because she was losing everything anyway. That was the gift he needed as he'd planned on making the ultimate sacrifice anyway. 

I can see where the plot could've focused more on the relationship between Emily and Ben but it would've been a different film and I liked the fact that he was so involved with others. We've seen the star-crossed lovers but they are torn apart film numerous times. I also read some person on Twitter complaining that there were no Black people in the film other than Smith and I'm wondering what movie they saw. His brother, the cancer patient and his family, the nurses, the wife of his best friend, the first love, the person he hurt: that's at least 8. Perhaps they meant co-stars but Rosario is a Latina with acknowledged African heritage. She and the mutli-ethnic Thandie Newton have similar coloring and Thandie's mum is a Zimbabwean princess.

One thing I'd like to see Will do next is play a character who displays his sex appeal. I felt it in Bad Boys 2 when he reveals he was dating his partner's sister played by Gabrielle Union. I thought they looked great on screen together. He is working on numerous projects including an adaptation of Oldboy with Steven Spielberg that ought to be interesting! Once the director had expressed a reluctance at working with him because Will was doing populist films. 

This coming from the king of populist films had me rolling my eyes - especially in light of the fact he ruined War of the Worlds (where I think the original holds up) by changing the ending to pure fluff. There's also the fact that though he directed Amistad at Debbie Allen's behest - she should've gotten the nod to direct it herself! Then there's the out of court settlement he and Dreamworks had with Barbara Chase Riboud for plagiarizing her book "Echo of Lions" about the uprising in the first place. If only this wasn't the first time a Black female writer had her creative works stolen by Hollywood with a potential payoff for her silence. Paging Sophia Stewart, the real mother of the Matrix - and Terminator!!

Ok, so back to the movie: I loved how all the characters were interconnected on some level. I felt so bad for the best friend and the task he had to undertake. I really cried when he helped the mother and her children for all the reasons why it was so important that she take steps to reclaim her life. My only thought were how beautiful her surroundings would have been and how was she going to pay the property taxes! Also as an aside, it was understood that she wasn't going to go back to old patterns because helping her would've been a waste. I really liked the juxtaposition with the beauty and danger of jellyfish. Yes, I'm still being vague. I noticed a few teenagers in the audience and a few guys in their twenties. I wondered what they got out of the film and how it might inspire them because I can't recall so many people crying while watching one since the "House of Sand and Fog". Cell phones and driving don't mix!!! Yes, I'm still being vague - just go see the movie. 

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