Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Film Pairing – What Am I? Chopped Liver?

Sometimes it’s all right to head over to Burger King for their Big Fish Filet with cheese, and some fries.  I am rarely disappointed in those moments because it was what I craved, and it’s really hard to screw up in the kitchen.  However, it really can’t match that fantastic seafood restaurant where the fresh catch of the day is expertly prepared with just the right sauce and the perfect wine, where dinner is all it could possibly be.  Maybe more.

Here are two films representative of this opening paragraph.

Tommy LeeJones and Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy
Double Jeopardy — A conventional thriller for an escapist evening.  Ashley Judd, Bruce Greenwood, and Tommy Lee Jones do what’s expected to keep even an exhausted mind on the plot.  The question quickly becomes did Judd’s husband feign death in order to disappear or did she kill him? And if it’s the former, what is she going to do about it? This is Judd’s film, and she handles the action lead very well. While there is some question about the legitimacy of the premise in a situation like this, suspending disbelief should be easy enough. The scenery is great. The film, directed by Bruce Beresford, was released in 1999 and was a financial success.

Margaret — Now, for something completely different. This was a film that nearly didn't get made, was edited, and re-edited, rewritten and came in originally at five hours.  Then, for all practical purposes, went nowhere.  The version I saw was the Netflix DVD, which was two and a half hours of genius. I suspect you haven’t seen it because it has had limited showings, and despite its powerful cast you might know nothing about it.

Matt Damon and Anna Pacquin in Margaret
A young college student, Lisa tries to get the attention of a bus driver on his Manhattan route.  Perhaps taking it as a flirtation, the driver pays too much attention to the distraction, probably runs a red light and kills a pedestrian.  The woman dies in the arms of the college student.  Initially everyone was content to write all of this off as a horrible accident. But Lisa can’t move on.  She will let no one else move on either, including us. This is a serious morality tale filmed in stark reality.  All good deeds are punished.  All attempts at fairness and justice are compromised by greed or bureaucracy or both. Even so, right and wrong are not so easily discernible as Lisa learns.

I want to see more by cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski. It is possible for New York settings to end up as a cliché. Not here. Fresh, busy, elegant and sometimes scary.   The film was released in 2011 and was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Anna Pacquin played Lisa. She was superb as was the rest of the cast:  J. Smith-Cameron, Jean Reno, Jeannie Berlin, and Allison Janney. Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon provided brief but essential support.

Though Margaret is only marginally a “crime” film, crimes have been committed.  However both films are rare in the sense that as crime films they are not dominated by male characters.

To accompany the films, why not some beer and a pizza for the first?  Or chopped liver.  Perhaps some wine with the second. But go slow. Margaret will have you rethinking what’s right and wrong or at least questioning the moral compromises you’ve made.

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