Sunday, March 30, 2008

Snow Angels

A new David Gordon Green movie is just such a gift. He's so good and his work is so vital; I hope everyone is giving him his due now as one of the defining filmmakers of the aughts rather than waiting to fawn in retrospect. Anyway, as this might lead one to believe, I saw Snow Angels this weekend, and, yes, it's remarkable. Sad and funny and terrifying and thoughtful and lyrical. Everything you'd expect. Based as it is on a novel (about which I know nothing), it has a bit more of an internal engine to it than his three previous features (which is a retarded way of my saying that it's ever so slightly less meandering and more explicitly plot-based and narrative-driven; in different hands, it could have ended up as one of those middle-class, middlebrow prestige pieces Kate Winslet does from time to time when she's keen to rack up another Oscar nomination).

It's shocking, but also quite nice, to see a film in which a bunch of characters are genuinely angry. Not just filled with self-righteousness or vengeance or generalized bile of the "fuck me? no, fuck you" variety like characters in most of the loud, ugly movies Hollywood attempts to feed us on a regular basis, but real, everyday, bone-deep anger. That band director's monologue about having a sledgehammer in his heart was a fucking brilliant way to open the film and set that tone. (When's the last time you've seen a high school teacher yell at a bunch of students in a movie in a way that's not just "ooh, what a jerk" or "ah, it's inspirational tough love that will lead them to victory in the end"? Many of us denizens of Wrestling Entropy know from being yelled at by high school teachers, especially in the context of extracurricular activities, and it was usually fueled by plain old unreflective anger, with maybe the merest shell of motivation painted on if we were lucky.) And, what's even more beautiful and shocking and almost exciting in its truthfulness is the way that the eruptions of anger don't serve as any sort of cue to judgment here, especially when it comes to the Kate Beckinsale character. Her flashes of rage made my stomach churn, but only because I recognized how they were such dead-on accurate manifestations of the frustration and impotence and regret and selfishness that I've felt in myself on many occasions--but we were never supposed to judge her harshly for these rages the way so many of the other characters (incl., often her own mother) did.

And though we were never being baited into judging her, I think the movie is asking us to consider how and when anger becomes unproductive and, therefore, its own prison, rather than, as it's intended to be, a tool to air out wrongs and resentments that otherwise would have festered internally, in an effort to achieve greater compassion for oneself and better relationships with loved ones. I think that scene when the main kid (the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Michael Angarano) yells at his dad about abandoning their family is one of the most important ones in the movie. Both because we get to see that kid--who is absolutely the film's moral center--practice using an additional set of adult emotions (on the heels of his mother's gentle imperative that he let himself live and breathe through his feelings instead of bottling them up like most people do, including, she freely admits, herself) and because the dad closes the door to the college lecture hall they've been sitting in. It's a subtle, but absolutely necessary, cue, that family business should stay private, not go exploding into front lawns and other public spaces like the rage and violence we constantly see around the Sam Rockwell character especially (which implicitly includes Nicky Katt as well, not to mention the way the entire high school gets enlisted in the search for the missing child). Angarano's character, at his core, clearly has a pretty solid sense of self, and he's being equipped, however fumblingly and imperfectly, by his parents with the tools he's going to need to become a more complete and self-actualized adult, the kind of adult that's clearly in short supply in the small town they all live in. This--this is a heroic, subtle, mature, uncommodifiable message, my kittens: that despite growing up in a dead-end town with separated parents and (the horror!) occasionally indulging in some clandestine beer and weed consumption, it is still entirely possible to become a good person. Life may try to guide you to fall into formation like the marching band does, but a willingness to be open to your emotions makes a part of your soul inviolable. Not to mention that he willingly goes down on his high school girlfriend when they spend a lazy morning in bed together, which is one of the very few instances of female-directed heterosexual tenderness in the entire movie.

Also, this is exactly the kind of role I didn't even know I was referring to when I mentioned last fall that I didn't know what kind of a career Sam Rockwell was supposed to be having. He's similar enough here to the kind of charming, nervous fuck-up he was as Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that I hope he doesn't get typecast in that sort of role, but, that all being said, he's really, really perfect in this movie. Nicky Katt likewise has been somewhat pigeonholed as the clueless, butch guy who fancies himself sort of sensitive and enlightened, but he's just so hilariously good at it that I can't complain. And Amy Sedaris, who usually kind of bugs me, could not have been used better here, her off-kilter sensibility not coming off as an end in itself but as an arresting bundle of legitimate personality traits in a truly fundamentally decent character.

This film is highly recommended, my kittens. A strong early(ish) start to the '08 movie year.

All the cool kids are doing it: I made you a Muxtape. I know you're probably so over such a January 2008 tracklist by this point. What can I say; I'm just not that hip. I mean, I put the fucking uncool as all get-out Kings of Leon on there, fer cryin' out loud. Um, but enjoy? Oh, and because it's apparently mandatory to link to now when referencing Muxtape: Catbird's list. It's kind of the same joke as the "Top Ten Best Ever" I linked here, but it's still worth it for the scroll-down punchline laugh.

DS makes a girl (that girl = me) blush over at the recently un-hiatus'd Overthrown Device. Being respectfully disagreed with by the likes of him is one of the highest compliments I can conceive of. Not to mention that he's also turned me around on some stuff (like The Life Aquatic and Michael Haneke) that I otherwise would have remained contentedly stick-in-the-mud about if left to my own devices. (Ha ha, y'like that pun?) Go, read, poke around for a bit, and be enlightened while you're there.

I haven't seen it in a number of years, but I'm glad to read Scott Tobias speaking out over at the Onion AV Club on behalf of the deeply, gorgeously weird Babe: Pig in the City, which I love unreservedly.

"Your momma ain't name you no damn Barack."

Kick-ass collection of pictures of knuckle tattoos and the stories behind them (via).

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