Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Blog, New Year, very first review.

     Welcome to Kristen's and my brand new blog for, but not limited to, movies. As the State of Union drones on in the background we will review Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Our first viewing of the new year was a good one. Today the Oscar nominations (http://oscar.go.com/nominees) were announced, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was on the list for Best Picture. If I had seen this before I made my Best/Worst of 2011, this movie would have been at the top.
     Having never read the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, I was only going with the knowledge that it had something to do with 9/11. The events of 9/11 were but a backdrop to this story. This was a story of loss, guilt, and retrieval. A beloved father and husband played by Tom Hanks died in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11. You are introduced to him as a devoted and steadfast father. A year after the tragedy, a secret of that tragic day still haunting the son, Oskar, played by Thomas Horn, is introduced to a new secret in the form of a key. This one little insignificant object brings Oskar into a whole new realm. His character is introduced to The Renter, played by Oscar nominee Max von Sydow, every corner of the 5 boroughs, and his instability in dealing with life, which throws his neurosis into overload. At times his Asperger's-like symptoms honestly make me want to throttle him. His attitude and demeanor are implausibly accepted throughout his search. But once the secret of the key and the guilt of his own secret are expelled and relieved, a normalcy and compassion returns in time to mark some touching and poignant scenes between him and his mother, played by Sandra Bullock.
     During one of those scenes, an actual deafening silence filled the theater. I appreciated this, and it was exactly what the scene needed. If you do not shed a tear during that, please go and make sure you have a heart. I would like to say I am appreciative of Tom Hanks not cluttering this film with himself, and letting it be. Max von Sydow played an interesting role where he was a mute, but the communication flowed seamlessly. Also the lack of backstory for his character felt right for me. The director Stephen Daldry wanted to tell Oskars story, not the entire familys. The adaptation worked.  A definite contender and smart choice.
      Those having experienced loss of any magnitude, especially those on a close and personal level, will leave being touched and understood.


     I'm coming from a slightly different perspective, having read the novel over the course of two days, only a couple of weeks back, and falling completely under its spell. I knew that what I was doing was probably putting a serious damper on my moviegoing experience, but I went ahead and did it anyway because I just love to be able to go around saying, "I haven't seen it yet, but I've read the book." So as it tends to go, I liked Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but it did not quite meet my expectations.
     It goes without saying that the book is always better than the movie, but some stories just work better as books. This is one. For starters, I have a general disdain for films that rely heavily on voiceovers. I have the book to tell me the story; I want the movie to show me the story. That being said, the few times this film does allow the images to speak for themselves, it’s stunning.
    The character of Oskar is also much easier to take on the page than on the screen. Reading the book, I was thinking "Asperger's?" but Foer never explicitly says this. Mentioning his inconclusive diagnosis in the movie made Oskar much more sympathetic (though he still grates on the nerves).
Final thoughts:
- Max von Sydow’s Supporting Actor nomination goes to show how much he was able to convey with very little screen time and not a single spoken line. You end up wanting to know more about him but get the idea that it is essential to his character that he be kept shrouded in mystery. It’s not. Read the book, and you’ll know his entire story, and it’s just as compelling as Oskar’s (and a perfect parallel to it). I would have loved to see his survival of the Dresden bombing, and his tortured romance with Oskar's grandmother (who also could have been much more developed), unfold on the screen.

- I know Sandra Bullock already had her year with The Blind Side, but her performance here was another highlight. Heartbreaking and pretty much what makes the movie at all Oscar-worthy to begin with.
-Was that Jonathan Safran Foer on the subway?

I guess all I can say is that this was a lovely supplement to the novel. As with all movies adapted from books, I wanted more. What both the book and the movie captured beautifully was the reminder that life is fragile, and the moments we have with our loved ones are finite. Both leave you wanting to grab on to the person you love most and not let go.


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