For My Consideration

Towards the end of last week I received a different package almost every day. In those packages were screeners, DVDs of various films nominated for SAG (Screen Actors Guild) awards, loaned to me by production companies hoping I would watch their film, fall in love and help vote them into the winning spots. I ended up with Hairspray, No Country for Old Men, Into the Wild, 3:10 to Yuma and Away From Her, as well as a free ticket to see There Will be Blood. You might have thought my biggest problem was fitting all these films in before the Friday at noon voting deadline but you would be wrong. My biggest problem was that I was afraid to watch one of the films.

I read Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild when it first came out and I found it extremely depressing. It's well written, like the author's other book that I've read, Into Thin Air, (also incredibly depressing) but painful to read because of the content. It's a tragic story about a young man (Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp) who gives up a privileged lifestyle to travel around, living off his wits and the land, and finally starving to death in an abandoned bus in Alaska. Some say he was a hero, others, especially those who live in Alaska, say he was stupid. I don't think he's a hero, in fact I think he made some pretty grave errors, but I can't just callously write him off as an idiot either. After reading his own words and the words of the people he befriended during his journey, he became too real to me to treat binarily instead of as a complex system.

All of which explains why when I heard Sean Penn had made a film of Into the Wild I shuddered and said there's one I won't be watching. If I ended up with a terrible stomach ache and a crying jag from the reading the book, what in the world would watching the movie do to me? I finally came up with two reasons to give it a try. 1) When I vote I like to know as much about the candidates as possible and 2) the film is as much a celebration of Chris McCandless' life and ideals as it is anything else. Plus I figured I could always turn it off.

One member of the Quality Time team is always concerned that films nominated for big awards will be slow and sadly Into the Wild fits that category. The entire film moved at a glacial pace for me, until poor Chris realized he wasn't going to be able to save himself, at which point it sped up and plummeted towards the tragic ending much faster than I liked. But it's entirely possible that much of this was subjective. Once again I deliberately tried not to bond with the character – I tried to remain the impartial observer who wasn't filled with anxiety and slowly getting an ulcer. It's ridiculous to get worked up over someone who has been dead for fifteen years isn't it? But in the end Emile Hirsch's acting won me over and I ended up sniveling and in dire need of a fistful of tissues.

The acting in the film is odd. But that's not the right word. Probably excellent is a better choice. What's odd is that I never thought of anyone as acting per se. I felt as though I were watching a documentary, so acting or lack thereof doesn't really come into it. But of course I wasn't, I was actually watching a terrific performance by Emile Hirsch, who had no trouble conveying a deep love of the wilderness, freedom and spirituality. The amazing cinematography is one of the best things about Into the Wild, with shots of gulls and beaches that can make your heart ache. The Alaskan wilderness is beautiful enough to make even the most determined couch potato think that perhaps there's something to this whole running away from urban society and getting back to nature compulsion after all.

One of the decisions I'm supposed to be making is whether or not Hal Holbrook, an octogenarian character actor, should win Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role for his part as Ron Franz, the older man with the tragic past who wants to adopt Chris McCandless. Mr. Holbrook is extremely good, in fact probably the best I've ever seen him, but he's up against Javier Bardem, nominated for his role of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. If I were to come up with two words to describe the portrayal of Chigurh they would chilling and perfection so I am afraid Mr. Holbrook can't count on my vote.

The soundtrack with songs by Eddie Vedder was interesting, if overdone at times. That might be my final summation of the entire film; interesting if overdone at times, including a few too many comparisons of Chris to Jesus, one of them not at all subtle, with someone flat out asking him if he's Jesus. But if you can get past that, the slow pace and the sadness inherent in the narrative, you'll be able to enjoy a powerful, visually stunning film.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Paul Muolo who is commenting on a film currently in theaters. " 'Juno' is about a quirky 16-year old (she lives in the present and rightly believes that rock 'n' roll peaked in 1977 with the rise of Patti Smith) who gets preggers and has a decision to make. The dad is a clueless but sweet kid who plays guitar in her band and is a track star (go figure.) Although 'the teenager gets pregnant' story line might scare more serious movie goers, Juno is refreshingly original and yes, darn funny. Not a bad soundtrack either which includes Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground singing 'I'm Sticking With You.' The flick was nominated for an Oscar. Hope it wins." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com