2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ****
So much has been written about this movie over the years, and upon viewing it one can understand why. Too often movies are heavy handed and want to do our thinking for us, they are in a way that complete antithesis of what the medium of film and interpretive art are supposed to be. 2001 is not a film that succumbs to the need to be heavy handed or to tell the audience what to think. That is also why 2001 is a very polarizing movie, there is no in-between, people either love it or they hate it. They either "get it" or they don't understand it. 2001 is all about questions, it is about who we were, what we are and what we can be. It is about stagnation and it is about progress. It is about how the smallest of events can bring about just as monumental of a change as the largest of events. In short, 2001 is about whatever you want it to be about. There are very few cue moments, moments where it is made definitively clear what is going on. And even those moments hinge upon how you have interpreted the moments prior and how you will interpret the moments that are to come.
Outside of the thinking and depth brought to the movie, there is also a sparseness to it and a sense of loneliness and desperation. The strive of man to advance and progress in their quests is played out both through operatic musical cues and through the long and lazy shots of our progression. Nothing is taken for granted, every moment is worked for and every moment works because of that. The lack of dialogue is most telling, because in this day and age the average movie going audience expects to be wowed, to have the story move along at a brisk pace and to always inform them of what is going on through a character you can relate to. 2001 certainly doesn't move at a brisk pace, it doesn't always inform us, nor does it give us a single character to relate to. The focus in 2001 is on the unknown, on questioning what you are seeing, not on the characters or their rather minor struggles in the grand scheme of things. Those musical cues I spoke of earlier are truly the backbone of the entire film. They are haunting when they need to be haunting, mundane when they must be mundane, and suspenseful throughout. In a lot of ways the music in 2001 reminded me of the music in The Proposition. Yes, 2001 is a great movie by itself, but without the musical cues it contains I don't believe in any way that it would be as profound or thought provoking as it ends up being. Change the music and you would change the mood and tone, and I can't think of any movie besides The Proposition that wasn't a musical and depended so much on its musical score.
Lastly there would be the camera work on display and the shot selection from Stanley Kubrick. Too often directors either go for the far too simplistic or the experimental when it isn't really needed. Kubrick mixes both in 2001 and the result is a stunningly beautiful look. You have the most simplistic of shots, lit perfectly and full of all you need to see and then they are gone. You have experimental type shots from odd angles that allow you to take in the surroundings and truly examine them because they present an aura of oddness to you so they must be examined. It all comes together to create a beautiful looking film with fantastic visuals that grab your attention from the get-go and never let go.
That was a lot to say something so simple, if you haven't, watch 2001. If you have, watch it again. Much like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind or Det Sjunde Inseglet, there is so much to chew on with each repeated viewing that you didn't notice the first time around. Tremendous, tremendous movie, I really can't say enough about it.
P.S.: The old wrestling fan in me came out hardcore when 2001 first started and I couldn't get images of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair out of me head when his theme music was being played. It's funny how for as much as I've forgotten about pro wrestling since I got involved with real fighting, the theme music of the one wrestler I ever truly thought was amazing stays with me. Also, did Alien take some of their score from 2001, because i thought I heard some similarities, but I wasn't certain.
Rain Man (1988) ***1/2
Rain Man is a movie that could be endlessly sappy, it could provide the happiest of endings and it could provide a miracle cure, thankfully, it doesn't. Rain Man ends the only way that it can end, with one man changing and the other staying the same. It ends with the brothers separated and with no cure for Raymond to be found. That and the journey of Cruise's Charlie are the strengths of Rain Man. The rest of the movie is honestly very cliche and very formulaic, but that's actually okay because it serves as the impetus for that ending and for Charlie to change.
There are two key scenes in Rain Man, bookmarks on the movie. In the beginning Charlie is overseeing the offloading of expensive cars, but he can't stay still, he has to move about and he has to make sure he maintains control over all he sees. This is where Raymond comes into play and the effect he has on Charlie is seen in the final moment of the movie. Charlie calls back to Raymond, and at that moments he realizes all he can do is tell Raymond goodbye and let him go because he doesn't have control over all he sees. So, he tells Raymond goodbye and stands there leisurely watching the train depart. The Charlie at the beginning of the movie would never have been able to do this, but the Charlie that has met Raymond and been affected by him can now partake in such actions.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Tom Cruise is a very good actor that gets a whole lot of flack for reasons I'll never understand. Sure, he's an overbearing pompous jerk in real life, but that has nothing to do with what he does on the screen. He is an actor that as his career progressed was willing to take on many different roles and play them all quite differently showing great range in the process. I've always been a fan, and Rain Man was the first film of his that I saw where I envisioned him as more than just an action hero/heartthrob. His performance was the performance of the movie, surprisingly enough. Hoffman was good, but his role was rather simplistic and straight forward. There wasn't anything hidden behind his eyes or in his soul because Raymond was on display for all to see. Cruise had to be deep and nuanced in his role, he had to bring the humanity to the part to make you believe that he could be affected by his brother and that his brother could change him.
Not a greatest type movie, but a great movie nonetheless, and a movie that is often overlooked from its era. I understand that's due mostly to the stock nature of the underlying story, but the meat and potatoes of Rain Man is the change in Charlie and the fact that Raymond won't change and that dynamic is enough to make this movie one worth seeing.
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