Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Tension City
2006-10-29 22:45
by Jon Weisman

Tense movies feel more tense to me now. I figure it's my kids doing it to me, making the stakes of tragedy higher and more personal. That's just short of a cliche - my wife and I had a memorable (for us) disagreement years ago with my sister-in-law over Life Is Beautiful, which she said she could not enjoy because she was a parent. At the time, we felt we were being patronized in that "you don't understand, but you will" way - like we were being told we couldn't feel or didn't have fear. It wasn't that movies didn't get to me back then - Shadowlands, just to pick one example out of many, still haunts me in some ways, nearly a decade after I saw it, and I don't know if that film affected that many people so much. But I squirm in my seat a lot now when certain peoples' lives are at stake in movies. So perhaps, in the end, my sister-in-law was right. I guess I need to see Life Is Beautiful to have a better idea.

I also think I have been writing longer paragraphs since my kids were born, but that's something to be examined another day. (In all seriousness, I bet Ken Arneson has the mind to explain it.)

In any case, United 93 isn't proving to be such an aberration for me now. Babel nearly drove me straight to a bar even though I saw it at 10 a.m. on a weekday, Fur had me racing home to hug my family on a Friday evening, and even Cars ... no, just kidding, Cars was fun. But now, you can add Little Children to the list. It's a great title for a film that is so humbling - so many of us, no matter our age or status, are all so young and vulnerable. It's a film that really made me feel nervous for its very real characters, and you know, that's rough when you live in as much fear as I do of what you could lose.

Unlike Babel, which practically suffocates almost tortures, with its grimness, Little Children lets you breathe just enough to keep you hopeful in its midst. Unlike Babel, events in Little Children don't seem quite so contrived - they are the product of human frailties rather than a stringing together of misfortunes around the world.

The third act of Little Children, if I can go all Syd Field for a moment, is structured about as well as you can dream of. In my writing, third acts were often my downfall - I feel I could set up situations but struggled to bring them home. I kept expecting that my characters would take me there naturally, but they just let me down. (Yeah, I know, blame them.) But Little Children has every element converge tautly and seamlessly - conventional thrillers have nothing on this picture. The movie certifies longtime actor Todd Field, who previously helmed In the Bedroom, as an absolute powerhouse director. (Field shared screenplay credit with Tom Perrotta, who wrote both the novels that Little Children and Election were based on. I didn't read those, but my wife says the Little Children movie was better than the book.)

And by the way, wait 'til you see what Kelly Leak's been up to. I don't know that there's anything that would tickle me more at the Oscars than the sight of Jackie Earle Haley getting his name read among Best Supporting Actor candidates. It's a longshot pragmatically, but he has to be considered.

So now my top three is a top four. I'm a little torn about what to put on top still. I can pick tiny things wrong with Little Children, insignificant in the grand scheme of things (and I forgive it for trying to sell me on the idea that Kate Winslet isn't beautiful), but which nevertheless make me want to keep The Last King of Scotland up top. (None of the eight critics charted in Entertainment Weekly give Last King higher than a B+, so again, I need someone to point out to me what the movie's lacking.) But Little Children may stick with me longer as time passes.

For now, it's Last King, United 93 and Little Children in my top three, Little Miss Sunshine fourth, and a spot open for a No. 5. I can imagine seeing two movies before the nomination period is over that I like better than Sunshine, but I have trouble believing the first three will fall out.

I do have several more to see, though. (Next up: a screening of Stranger Than Fiction on Tuesday.) I've had my new job at Variety for a month now, and I have to tell you, it's been something. The people I work with really, really know their stuff - so you really have to bring your A game every day. Those aspirations, those imperatives, combined with a love of movies that had been laid dormant for the past four years, are why I feel like Augustus Gloop in the Chocolate Factory. There's this fervor in me now to taste everything, to stuff myself on all that might be relevant. Thank goodness Oscar season doesn't mix with baseball season, or I might go down the chute.

2006-10-30 08:53:36
1.   drewjensen
Jon - I'm really liking Screen Jam. You're one of my favorite writers and I felt like I was lucky before that you happen to write about my Dodgers, but now my cup truly has runneth over since you began writing about my other loves (movies and TV). If you could just manage a third blog about books as well, then you'd have my personal trinity covered. Anyway, just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you.

I can't remember if you have written about The Prestige yet, but it's not to be missed, either. I loved Christopher Nolan's work in Memento and I had just seen Christian Bale in the Machinist and my respect for him is at an all-time high. Anyway, The Prestige is a movie you have to be patient with as the pacing is a little lazy. You have to have faith that you're really being taken some place...that the "third act" as you say will make it all worthwhile - and for me, it definitely was. It was the best I've seen this year, with Little Miss Sunshine probably second.

2006-10-30 09:15:00
2.   Jon Weisman
Writing two blogs has practically prevented me from ever cracking a book.

I haven't seen Prestige yet, but you know, it's on the list. I haven't felt an urgency to, despite how much I enjoyed Memento.

And thanks for the nice words. Screen Jam is still a small club - anyone reading it now can certainly call themselves an original reader of the site if I'm still doing it down the road.

2006-10-30 14:45:30
3.   Bluebleeder87
just to give you guys a heads up, my girlfriend Ana's brother is an actor & will be a feature star in the upcoming flick Freedom Writters staring Hilary Swank & Sergio Montalvo (my girlfriends brother) hope you guys check it out.

ps it comes out Jan. 12, 2007

2006-10-30 17:39:10
4.   Jon Weisman
Cool, Bluebleeder.
2006-10-30 18:21:55
5.   4444
I read about that movie (Freedom Writers) not too long ago on the front page of the press-telegram. Definitely piqued my interest. Will keep an eye out for it...
2006-10-31 08:50:09
6.   Benaiah points out there there will be an hour long Christmas episode directed by Harold Ramis(!) and that J.J. Abrams will be directing an episode in December(!!). Hopefully this will get some of that legion of Lost fans to tune into the Office. The more the merrier I say!
2006-10-31 14:35:06
7.   dan reines
Jon, I know what you mean about watching films differently AK -- after kids. I disliked "Crash" for a lot of reasons, but the scene that put me right over the edge was the "Shot a little girl -- oops! Gotcha!" bit. Seemed so gratuitous to me -- it felt like a slap at me, even.

Oddly, though, I didn't have that feeling watching "United 93." I think I appreciated that movie's reserve. For all the drama and pain and heartache of the subject matter, the film didn't wallow in anything, and nothing seemed cheap or gratuitous. It just made me feel...human and vulnerable. Walking out, I felt more connected to my world somehow.

Can't explain it, and at the moment I don't wish to, but suffice it to say that I agree with you on United 93, and I'm looking forward to the others you mentioned.

Finally, in the words that Peter Gammons didn't actually write so very long ago about another website entirely, "Love your blog, Jon."

2006-10-31 15:06:32
8.   MadMonk
Jon, thanks for the review of Little Children. I'm looking forward to it. Always like Todd Field as an actor and thought In the Bedroom was one of the best that year. Good to read that it's not gratuitous.

Agree with you about Last King of Scotland. Forrest Whittaker is an actor that's fascinating. He's so good in whatever role he plays and yet not showy. Somehow, he's not getting many roles.

2006-10-31 16:54:40
9.   4444
LKOS is definitely on my list because of Whittaker. He really stood out, among other places, in Ghost Dog and The Shield. The world needs more interesting actors like him.

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