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The Bottom Shelf #139

12.20.2007

Um, it's almost... what's that holiday called again? The one that assumes that there are no other holidays being celebrated across the vast globe? Hmmm... well, here are some movies for the season while I try and remember what the name of that was.

MILLIONS (2004)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon

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For those people who fell in love with Danny Boyle when he delivered the mind bending experience that was TRAINSPOTTING, this is yet another leap into his arms. Some might argue that a movie sweet with the faith in saints couldn't be farther from a tale of heroin addiction than Lindsay Lohan is from concealing her side boob when going out in public. I think it's just a matter of how you look at things. I mean, side boob is still boob, right? And a movie rife with whimsy, as if the director has been holding his breath just a little over the course of its delivery will still be as magical, whether that's talking to imagined figures or swimming through a sea of shit.

Two young boys and their father move into a new house after the children's mother has died. The circumstances of which are never made clear but in true XY fashion, the men deal with the tragedy with a stiff upper lip and a great deal of denial. The youngest son (an absolutely charming Alex Etel, completely natural and unaffected and not because he's British otherwise Freddy Highmore would be a little less grating, right?) reads up on the patron saints and starts to imagine they're talking to him. When a bag of money seemingly falls from the sky one afternoon while he's hiding away in a cardboard structure that he's built next to the local train tracks, he assumes that it was a sign from god because, after all... who else would have that much money? His more financially wise older brother develops plans for how to dole out the funds, a pressing matter with the conversion of the pound soon to occur and the Xmas season rapidly approaching. But young Damian struggles to determine what the "right" thing to do is and begins to give the money away up until he finds out that it was stolen and its thief has come looking for it.

Filled with an amazing amount of heart and charm without ever once being preachy or condescending to those who might not be believers (I myself am not), this movie contains saints but speaks more to the inner compass that all of us should possess. The one which is supposed to guide you toward stepping in the proper direction, aware of all around you. Unlike many American movies which feature the death of a parental figure prominently and aim to not just pluck heartstrings but play them like a master violinist, Boyle escapes all of that without ever avoiding the truth. The boys' mother has died and while it is a sad and confusing time, they're still children. (Scenes where Anthony teaches Damian that telling adults their mother is dead will get them free things is a page out of reality that flits by like a beautiful butterfly.) The woman who comes into their father's life is not seen as being a villain but merely an outsider. All of these small things add up to Boyle's mastery at conveying a tale in a manner which is brutally straightforward while never losing an approach of hope. His films, from the devious cover-up of death (SHALLOW GRAVE shall remain my favorite of his catalog) to the open armed greeting of love and compassion in MILLIONS, are like a child coming to a parent with a white lie, fingers crossed behind their backs. It's true and yet it's not in the simplest and most enchanting of ways.

Favorite Scene:

Damian's discussion with his teacher over how Joseph would have been acting on the night that he was looking for shelter for Mary.

Favorite Line:

"The French have said au revoir to the franc, the Germans have said auf wiedersehen to the mark, and the Portuguese have said... whatever to their thing."

Trivia Tidbit:

Instead of making cast and crew T-shirts, production donated the money to Water Aid, to build a well in Africa.

See if you liked:

WHALE RIDER, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, A MIGHTY HEART

A SIMPLE PLAN (1998)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton

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There's not much about this movie that deals with the holiday spirit. People aren't about giving as much as they are about receiving, or more aptly, taking. But the movie does feature a couple of Xmas trees in it, one of which features a beer can ornament that was sliced into a coil shape and is hanging off of the tree in Jacob's (Thorton) dinky apartment. It's the small things that I notice sometimes. It's the small things that are meant to be noticed in this movie, tightly directly by Sam Raimi and meant to have you pondering how restrictive small town life must be, especially when you're freezing your ass off in the falling snow. Although it was Blink 182 that performed the song, "All the Small Things," and not the band that was named after this movie. (Stupid aside, I know, but I occasionally force myself to attempt being clever.)

When an educated man working as an accountant in a rural feed store goes on a day trip with his slightly unstable brother and his brother's town drunk buddy, the group accidentally stumbles upon a small plane which has crashed on a nature reserve. In the plane they discover a huge gym bag full of money. Almost 4 1/2 million dollars has them the two dullards frothing at the mouth and the accountant (Paxton) pondering if he can act smart enough to get away with the crime. His wife (Bridget Fonda) is back home, largely pregnant with their first child. Looking to her for her approval and getting met with her chilling underlying deviousness, he decides to keep the money. Until things go wrong, as they typically do in these types of story lines.

The movie is really the embodiment of its title. The direction never wanders off the chaos that ensues for the non-complex people involved. There isn't a large cast which gets introduced, no meandering minor players, just the brothers, the drunk and the pregnant wife all trying to plot the fastest way to scoring the dough. Still, there is a rich complexity in the simple nature of the film's layout. Thorton never fails to be exactly himself while giving you something that you're surprised with after the fact. The scene in which he and Paxton set up Brent Briscoe's character of Lou (funny sidenote: Briscoe recently worked with Thorton again in MR WOODCOCK, as one of the barbers where Thorton's character gets his hair cut), you can see this struggle within his dense skull. I even started to get mad at him for turning on his brother as he does, only to watch him do a 180 and land right back in the lap of where you were watching for the shit to fall into. And while Fonda has been known to rub me the wrong way over the majority of her career (another funny sidenote: Fonda has since gone on to marry musician Danny Elfman, who is responsible for the score here), she is superb in this role, all shifty gazes and ice cold deliveries. Her subtlety is penetrating when you least expect it. In the performances and direction, an otherwise tired tale is shown salvation. Appropriate for this time of year, I believe.

Favorite Scene:

When Thorton is giving the sad rundown of his pathetic love life. It's at once funny and disarmingly touching at the same time.

Favorite Line:

Fonda's entire speech about what miserable little small town lives they'll all have to lead without the money.

Trivia Tidbit:

Bill Paxton's father plays the old man who confronts Paxton's character in the feed store.

See if you liked:

FARGO, SLING BLADE, THE GIFT

If that fat dude calls me a Ho one more time, he'd better bring a killer gift to make up for it.

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