Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The World According to Garp

Year 3, Day 200 - 7/19/11 - Movie #926

BEFORE: Another movie, like "Jack", that begins with a baby's birth, and then tracks that person's life - though I'm sure with a different outcome tonight.

THE PLOT: This film chronicles the life of T S Garp, and his mother, Jenny. Whilst Garp sees himself as a "serious" writer, Jenny writes a feminist manifesto at an opportune time, and finds herself as a magnet for all manner of distressed women.

AFTER: I don't know much about John Irving, other than Hollywood's had a go at making films from his books, with mixed results. He also wrote "The Cider House Rules", whose film adaptation was filled with abortion metaphors and messages. Tonight's film seems to take the same tact with regards to feminism.

Garp's mother is a woman before her time - who inseminated herself during the war (which one?) while working as a nurse and never needed a husband. She's a strong character, and like my mom, seemed to put the "mother" into "smother". But it's a funny thing about mothers who are over-protective, eventually any kid gets hurt, and then all of their worrying and doting seems justified.

Despite her best advice, Garp does fall in love, though his mother calls it "lust" and treats it like it's some disease. And as Garp gains a family with two sons and writes novels while being a stay-at-home dad, his mother forms a feminist artist colony (or something) which becomes a home for hurt and healing people. Some of these women form a group who cut out their own tongues, to protest what was done to a young rape victim, despite the fact that the rape victim doesn't want them to mutilate themselves.

I sort of felt like there were a bunch of metaphors in this film that fell just outside of my understanding - like are they trying to say that women don't have a voice in society, or that women have to go to extremes to be heard, or that it makes no sense for people to hurt themselves empathetically?

This is the kind of film that MY mother would never have let me watched, because it contains references to rape, and transgender people, and probably homosexuality (though it falls short of calling Garp's mother, or any feminist a lesbian). My mother determined what movies I was allowed to see by reading the Pilot, which was the newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Any film containing a gay person, or blatant references to sex, or depicted any kind of nudity got an automatic "O" for "offensive".

But of course there comes a time in any man's life when he rejects his parents' ideals - Garp went off and fell in love, and I moved to New York to make films (ones that the Pilot would probably hate). What I found confusing was the encouragement from Garp's mother to lead an adventurous life, since time is fleeting and we all have to make the most of it. And then Garp proceeds to...get married and have kids. While I'm sure raising kids is challenging (or so I hear), does it really qualify as an adventure? As opposed to backpacking across Europe or serving in the Peace Corps...

There's some material here about the creative process, but there could have been a lot more. What makes a writer tick? What makes him want to write stories? What gives him the confidence to think that other people will want to read them? I was discussing exactly this topic last night with a friend over dinner, and related what happened when I went to film school.

NYU Film School sort of taught me that I wasn't cut out to be a director, since I didn't feel I had enough creative ideas, and the ones I did have, I didn't feel strongly about them to champion them. I was fine with the technical aspects of filmmaking - put the camera here, edit the film together like this, sound effects go there - but when it came to thinking up stories, at least long narratives, I had nothing. I did OK for the first two years, since we worked mostly in short films, but when it came to proposing a thesis film, I panicked. Fortunately I had enough credits to graduate after three years, so I sort of did an end run around the process.

I've kicked around a few story ideas over the years, but it just feels arrogant for me to put an idea for a screenplay out there, and to believe that anyone else would be interested in seeing it on film. Plus I've been sort of busy the last 2 decades, holding down two jobs, so who has time for writing? Though I did think of a funny idea for a short film today over lunch, and I'm toying with the idea of shooting it. It feels like the first real creative concept I've had in a long long time - and I remember how much easier it is for me to make a short film than a long one. Maybe when the blogging project is over.

Speaking of which, I'm putting it on hold for the next week, and heading to Comic-Con. Two years ago I watched extra movies before and after the event to compensate, and last year I brought DVDs and watched them on a laptop. Neither solution really worked, they both exhausted me, so this year I'm taking a break. Since I'm going to hit 1,000 films later this year anyway, I don't have to rush to get there. I'll try to watch ONE movie while in San Diego to celebrate Robin Williams' birthday, but other than that, the blog won't be updated for the next 5 or 6 days. Back on July 25.

Also starring Glenn Close (last seen in "Jagged Edge"), Mary Beth Hurt (last seen in "Lady in the Water"), John Lithgow (last seen in "Kinsey"), Swoosie Kurtz (last seen in "Liar Liar"), with cameos from Amanda Plummer (last seen in "Joe Versus the Volcano"), Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (both last seen in "Cocoon: The Return").

RATING: 3 out of 10 book signings

Monday, July 18, 2011


Year 3, Day 199 - 7/18/11 - Movie #925

BEFORE: From a movie where Robin Williams played a kid-like adult to one where he plays an adult-like kid.

THE PLOT: A boy with an unusual aging disorder enters the fifth grade with the appearance of a 40 year old man.

AFTER: Not much to report on this one - I'm not sure it was much of a stretch for Robin Williams to act like a kid - doesn't he sort of do that all the time anyway?

It's hard to fathom Francis Ford Coppola, director of "The Godfather", making this film that concentrates on fart jokes and kids eating gross things.

Similar message to last night's film - since Jack ages so fast, it's sort of a given that his life could be 1/4 as short as that of other people - so it's extra important for him to make the best use of whatever time he has. In this case, it's going to school and making friends.

Even though Jack is shown having fun with his friends, there's a maudlin pall over the whole occasion, simply because of his rapid aging. There is an upside to being 10 and looking like 40 - being good at basketball, for example (though he seems to take a long time to figure this out). He also can buy liquor and porno mags - though he never seems to get busted for this, so what kind of message does the film send out to the kids? It's OK for kids to read Penthouse, as long as someone else buys it for them?

Also starring Diane Lane (last seen in "The Perfect Storm"), Jennifer Lopez (last seen in "Money Train"), Brian Kerwin, Bill Cosby (last seen in "The Meteor Man"), with cameos from Fran Drescher, Michael McKean (last seen in "Man Trouble"), and Don Novello (last seen in "Tucker: The Man and His Dream").

RATING: 3 out of 10 Halloween costumes

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Year 3, Day 198 - 7/17/11 - Movie #924

BEFORE: The next logical film would be something like "Prince of Persia", or something else with another hero on a quest, but I'm planning on taking a few days off from the project for Comic-Con, so I've got to start my Robin Williams chain if I'm going to finish it in time. At least I'm staying in the fantasy genre.

Linking was tough tonight - but Liam Neeson was in "Schindler's List" with Embeth Davidtz, who was also in the (upcoming) film "Bicentennial Man" with Robin Williams (last seen in "Mrs. Doubtfire").

THE PLOT: When two kids play an old magic board-game they found, they release a man trapped for decades in it and a host of dangers that can only be stopped by finishing the game.

AFTER: Another film for kids, I guess - it's a little harder to take as an adult. Watching a kid's board game destroy a house - that's a parent's worst nightmare, right?

It takes a lot to believe in a board-game that can generate bats, giant mosquitoes, elephants, rhinos, etc. and also one that can absorb a young boy into the game and keep him in some kind of jungle environment for 26 years. Are we supposed to take this literally, or is it intended as a metaphor for something?

Forget that, what kind of depraved entity created such a game - is it black magic, like the ouija board? How does it do what it does, and perhaps more importantly, WHY? Why jeopardize the lives of the people playing the game? It seems like the game wants, or needs, to be played - so why would it make it so difficult for the players to continue? Are you supposed to run around the room between turns, avoiding a hungry lion and killer insects?

The ending was sort of unexpected, the game can "reset" itself (and, apparently, all of reality) once someone's token reaches the end of the track. I often use the metaphor of the chess pieces being put in the box to describe the way a sitcom has to bring its characters back to a fixed point - here the scenario is literal, once the game is finished, the players are reset to their starting states - but with full knowledge of all that has occured, and I'm not sure I'm seeing the point of that.

The movie's intended takeaway at first seems to be something about facing one's fears, but really it's about how we should all tell the people we care about how we feel, because we never know how much time we'll have together. Or, if you're three years deep into a blogging project, perhaps the lesson is "Finish what you've started."

Also starring Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst (last seen in "Mother Night"), David Alan Grier (last heard in "Astro Boy"), Bebe Neuwirth (last seen in "Say Anything..."), Jonathan Hyde (last seen in "The Tailor of Panama") and Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "The Station Agent").

RATING: 4 out of 10 destructive monkeys