The Reel Deal
THE IDES OF MARCH, THE WAY & THE SKIN I LIVE IN
Quick Takes on Three Films
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
THE IDES OF MARCH:
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5
The cynic in me–and let’s just say that’s no small part of me–loved how cynical The Ides of March was. Sure, a cynical movie about politics isn’t too surprising (what better thing to be cynical about?), but from George Clooney it does feel a bit out of character. He’s always seemed to me the poster child for liberal American optimism. And perhaps that’s why he is perfect for the role he plays in this film: Governor Mike Morris of Pennsylvania. The character is clearly meant to be of the Obama or Clinton ilk–a hip, intellectual guy here to change everything, capturing people’s imaginations with his suave demeanor and his honest approach. He’s an idealist who won’t make shady deals with other candidates in order to secure votes, which makes even previously jaded Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers (played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling) get caught up in a bit of the ol’ Messiah complex. But everyone has their flaws, and we soon discover the governor’s (when Meyers stumbles upon something shocking–though really not all that shocking these days).
This is a tale of political intrigue and suspense that delves into just how fucked up our electoral system is. In our politics, it’s spin that matters over policy, it’s deals that overpower ideals, it’s winning at all costs that always trumps…well, everything else. But does any of this shock you? Doesn’t any informed person know that the longer one stays in politics the more one’s idealism becomes cynicism, the more one grows jaded? Does the movie think it is really surprising us anywhere along the line? It twists and turns and dances around, and it works rather well (mostly due to the superb acting on display). But there’s something missing, a gracefulness to the dance. If only it’d been written by someone like Sorkin perhaps it would have ended up a bit more elegant, and then we’d maybe have an Oscar contender. It’s not that the writing is bad–no, there are even parts of the script that are enviable–it’s that it just isn’t all it could be. The title takes on the Shakespearean, but the writing sure doesn’t. That said, The Ides of March still manages greatness, it just leaves one wondering if it could have managed more.
(It also leaves one wondering: Why the hell doesn’t Clooney run for president? He looked so comfortable in front of that podium. Maybe our first atheist or agnostic president?)
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5
The Way is an uneven film that still manages to be somewhat enjoyable and moving. It is uneven in its tone, uneven in its writing, uneven in the skill level of its execution. Sometimes it’s wildly funny, but other times the jokes fall flat. Sometimes the emotion resonates, but other times it clearly misses the mark. Some scenes seem absolutely perfect, and others film school amateurish.The only thing it manages to be the entire time is sentimental (though I don’t mean that solely as a diss: sometimes this is put to good use, and others not–there’s a fine line between earnest sentimentality and sappy bullshit, and it veers in and out of both).
So, as you can imagine, it is hard to gauge my reaction overall. I did enjoy it, but not in its entirety. What I did love is that Martin Sheen owns his role. He’s phenomenal as always. He plays a father who has just lost his son–a son who died on his first day hiking the Camino de Santiago–and who ends up embarking on the journey his son planned to take. Sheen definitely carries the film, and without him, the material wouldn’t have any of the impact it did. And part of that impact comes from us knowing that the father and son on screen are actually father and son in real life, and that to Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez this was obviously a labor of love. The love spills out–sometimes in cheesy ways, and other times in refreshingly honest ways–but there is enough of that genuine pathos to move the viewer. If Estevez had shown some restraint, got some assistance with the writing, and hired better actors in the lesser roles (which they probably didn’t have the budget for), this could have really been something. Well, maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, but I’d like to think so.
The bottom line is: The Way has a number of things going for it, but it loses its way somewhere along the line. Of course, if you’re going to lose your way, this isn’t too bad a path to meander down. It’d have been the best Lifetime movie on Lifetime if they released it on TV.
LA PIEL QUE HABITO (THE SKIN I LIVE IN):
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5
Pedro Almodóvar is a genius. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. He rarely makes anything less than amazing, and The Skin I Live In is no exception. It is a great film. Is it his best? No, certainly not. But is it worth seeing? You bet.
Well, so long as you’re not easily disturbed. At the intersection of Almodóvar’s many thematic fascinations–sex, death, gender, identity, etc.–The Skin I Live In manages to be, even for Almodóvar, a shockingly hard pill to swallow. It is best described as a psychological horror film that is never scary, but entirely disturbing. Bubbling over with Almodóvar’s trademark over-the-top melodrama, infused with fetishistic creepiness and painted in his bold color palette, this film is certainly an Almodóvar film for Almodóvar fans. It takes the stereotypical Almodóvar qualities to another level, as if he were trying to out-Almodóvar himself–even while also trying to do Hitchcock and others. It somehow manages to feel like the most Almodóvarian of his films, and the least.
So how does this compare to the best of his oeuvre? My initial reaction is that it doesn’t. It has all the right parts, and has them in droves, but there’s something lacking this time around. Not enough to taint the viewing experience, but enough to make me prefer plenty of his other films to this. With all auteurs though, this could change–every great film by a great director should be watched more than once, for you never know how it will hit you upon multiple viewings.
The Ides of March is a film directed by George Clooney, written by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, and based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon. Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright. An idealistic staffer for a newbie presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail.
The Way is a film written and directed by Emilio Estevez. It stars Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Deborah Kara Unger. A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El Camino de Santiago” from France to Spain.
La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In) is a film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet. It stars Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet. A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from The Ides Of March, Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures