As Good As It Gets [1997]

21 feb. 2015



Okay... What I do is, I watch. Ever watch somebody who doesn't know you're watching them? An old woman sitting on a bus? Or kids going to school? Somebody just waiting, and you see this flash come over them. And you know immediately that has nothing to do with anything external because that hasn't changed. They're just sort of realer and more alive. You look at someone long enough, you discover their humanity.

People that talk in metaphors ought to shampoo my crotch. This is one of several cruel, yet memorable phrases said by Melvin Duvall (Jack Nicholson) during As Good As It Gets. A comedy with brains and one of the best films of the 90s, it is about people with absolutely nothing in common living under different circumstances, but for some reason their paths cross one day... and this is when the fun begins.

Melvin is one of a kind person who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder with all that implies. Anyone’s nightmare, he’s never afraid of telling the truth face to face. Despite his professional success (he’s a best-selling fiction author) loneliness is never far away from him. Nicholson does a perfect job and behind that hateful and hilarious mask, the vulnerability of the character surfaces from time to time, exactly when it is due. 

Melvin has a gay neighbor called Simon (Greg Kinnear) whose object of his affection is a tiny dog named Verdell (Jill The Dog). One evening, Simon gets brutally attacked while drawing a painting of some guy he picked up in the street. You know that Hollywood loves to represent gay men as victims of beatings, mistreating and diseases and this is not an exception at all. 

It seems to be that Simon was looking for love and company, not exactly for another model. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and he ends up in the hospital in the worst condition after being assaulted by the model’s abettors. 

Simon’s best friend, Jack (the great Cuba Gooding Jr.), forces Melvin to take care of Verdell as a way to compensate for the way he has been treating him for years. Surprisingly the freaky almost-psychotic writer and an animal hater by all means, suddenly finds himself in love with the cute, little dog. Director James L. Brooks delivers his message in a subtle but powerful way: all you need to love someone is getting to know them a little bit more every day. You’ll be delighted with the pleasant nonjudgmental surprises you’ll find along the way.

Nevertheless, Melvin’s heart belongs to the tortured mother and busy waitress called Carol (Helen Hunt).  However, this is a nearly impossible romance as they are completely opposite. Carol’s son, Spencer (Jesse James) suffers from asthma and eventually Melvin offers to get billed for his quite expensive medical treatment.  The kid gets better and now the single mother has a lot of free time to spend



















This doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good thing, of course. The lonely woman is so accustomed to being distraught most of the time, that this unexpected break only leads her to face her own condition. For every person out there this might be a great chance for a new start. For most people, though, it is a frightening moment.

Be as it may, Carol and Melvin paths intersect and they change each other’s lives. Both travel with Simon to Baltimore to ask his parents for financial help. He’s broke and facing a slow recovery from that vicious attack, but Carol’s friendship turns out to be the best palliative of all. Melvin gets jealous and makes all kinds of mistakes in order to conquer Carol’s heart. She eventually falls under the unusual charm of a man she used to dislike in a huge way and the OCD patient learns how to express his own feelings to make her feel good about herself. 

Fortunately, As Good As It Gets is not the typical romantic Hollywood movie. It has a tinge of harsh realism, but at the same time is a captivating an extremely enjoyable experience. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear performances are flawless and we can’t forget other great talents like Lupe Ontiveros, Shirley Knight and Harold Ramis

As Good As It Gets is an ode to tolerance, love and understanding. In a very sharp way, it shows how people can learn to get along with each other despite their differences and dissimilar points of view. There is some sentimentalism involved, of course, especially in the sequence when Simon finds out that Melvin had taken him in. The homophobic and misanthropic author finally opens his heart and realizes that we all are one. That feeling goes beyond age, race or sexual orientation. In that moment Simon says to him “I love you”. But such statement has no romantic nature at all. It is a way of saying “I celebrate your humanity. I see you and I appreciate you. And I feel happy because we can live with each other in peace, no matter how different we are”. 

Hans Zimmer never fails, of course, and this time the score reflects the movie’s great spirit in a very touching way. Actually Up’s score (2009) seems to be heavily inspired by this one. Don’t you think so?

        

It is time to enjoy this brilliant movie one more time and dream about your perfect life. If an extravagant guy with OCD can find happiness and contentment thanks to movie magic, then we can overcome anything. And what is better than having your best friend, a beloved pet and the love of your life next to you every day? Indeed, this is as good as it gets.

“You make me want to be a better man”Melvin Udall-


February 21, 2015






















As Good As It Gets
USA, 1997
TriStar Pictures
Produced by James L. Brooks, Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea
Directed by James L. Brooks
Screenplay by Mark Andrus, James L. Brooks
Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Shirley Knight, Harold Ramis, Lupe Ontiveros, Yeardly Smith, Jesse James, Jill The Dog
Cinematography: John Bailey
Music by Hans Zimmer



21 feb. 2015

Selma [2014]

20 feb. 2015


Gotta step it up us to discuss a must
It ain't nothin but an us thang
Rewind back to the time
Where the color of our mother
Had 'em call it a crime
Brother what in the world?
And the world says where is the black man
Support the woman and children
Time to step it up, step it up, it's playoff time 

And the rhyme go to check, so check yourself
[
Lyrics from "New Agenda", 1993, written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis and performed by Janet Jackson & Chuck D]


No film will ever do enough justice to the figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, Selma is maybe the best movie about the activist and humanitarian killed on April 4, 1968.  

Director Ava DuVernay created an almost flawless masterpiece that narrates the events before and after the historic Selma to Montgomery voting right marches in 1965. It’s a magnificent and painful experience at the same time, especially when you realize that there’s still a long way to go. There’s still not enough justice in this world for everyone and sometimes the price for it is paid with lots of blood and tears. 

Selma starts with Luther King’s acceptance of the 1964  Nobel Peace Prize. In contrast, there is the tragic 16th  Street Baptist Church bombing (1963), perpetrated by KKK extremists who killed four African-American girls. All of this sets the scene for the subsequent events that would lead to the tragic Bloody Sunday in 1965.

DuVernay dissects Martin Luther King’s personality with great precision and allows the audience to understand his reasons and points of views.  Yes, some cynics may argue that there is a subtle sanctification of his public persona, but after all this is almost unavoidable. He’s portrayed as an idealistic man with strong religious beliefs and also hopes and fears like everyone else.

Hopefully the audience will get the most important message: he dared to fight for a strong cause and inspired millions to follow his example. He stood against immorality and injustice when no one else did and not even death could take away his legacy.

David Oleyolow’s performance is greater than any award nomination and I said this with enough sarcasm, but with deep admiration at the same time. Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and even Sidney Poitier must be proud to see this young man turning into one of the best actors of his generation. He has the gravitas and talent to portray to perfection one of the most fascinating characters for any actor out there. 

Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King) on the other hand is always in perfect synchrony with Mr. Oleyolow and embodies the vulnerability and braveness of the woman who inspired and loved Luther King, Jr. every day of their life together.  

Back to the movie, the murder of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) triggered everything that happened afterwards. On March 7, 1965, a group of around 500 people marched from Selma to Montgomery led by John Lewis (Stephen James) and Reverend Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce). The goal of this march was to reach Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) in order to address very important issues, such as the brutal murder of Lee Jackson by local police officers. It was supposed to be an unarmed, non-violent event, but Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) had something very different on mind.


The grotesque spectacle was broadcasted live both on TV and radio and over 70 million people witnessed (President Lyndon B. Johnson among them, played by Tom Wilkinson) one of the worst displays of police brutality in recent history. Then Ava DuVernay turns the Bloody Sunday events into one of the best cinema sequences of the 21st Century. 

The crudity of the scenes was treated with immeasurable artistry: with an impeccable cinematography underlining the picture, the blood, screams and laments of the hundreds of people being beaten to death and attacked with tear gas are lost within the dust raised by the police’s horses running as fast as possible to reach every one of the marchers. 

This is a sequence worth watching dozens of times, not as a masochist exercise or something like that, but as a reminder of the things that we must never allow to happen again. As a member of the human race I refuse to support any ideology or government that segregates people in such disgusting and sickening way.

Selma also shows everything that happened after the Turnaround Tuesday in which Dr. Marthing Luther King refused to go on, thus obeying the court’s order preventing them to march. The movie also pays tribute to heroes like James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, played by Jeremy Strong and Tara Ochs, who were brutally murdered by white supremacists because of their support of equality and their strong opposition to racial segregation.

        

After Judge Frank Minis Johnson (Martin Sheen) allows it, the march finally takes place in perfect peace and Martin Luther King delivers a powerful speech on the State Capitol.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Extract of the original text of the speech).


Even when some critics have criticized the supposed lack of historical accuracy (specifically the way that President Lyndon B. Johnson is portrayed in the movie) Selma is an amazing effort  and hopefully the new generations will be more and more interested in reading and learning about this part of modern history after watching the movie. 

The spirits of Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb, Jamie Lee Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. himself and every man and woman who gave their own lives in the name of freedom and justice are still very much alive and many men and women are waking up again to focus on what is really important.  Justice and love have no color at all. Why is this so hard to understand?


It’s never too late to give peace a chance. In the meantime, don’t miss the chance to watch this piece of art at least a couple of times.


February 20, 2015

Selma, 2014
USA
Production company: Cloud Eight Films, Harpo Films, Plan B Entertainment, Pathé
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Produced by Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oleyowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, Wendell Pierce, Stephan James, Jeremy Strong, Oprah Winfrey, Tara Ochs, Tessa Thompson, Keith Stanfield, Andre Holland, Common
Cinematography: Bradford Young
Music by Jason Moran



 

20 feb. 2015