June 20, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 08 November 2012 13:52
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help families choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film starring Tobey Maguire, The Details, now available in theaters and on demand.
No matter what kind of a day you may have, somebody somewhere experiences something more difficult. As present as our problems may be, others face challenges that overwhelm our situations. Sometimes we need to be reminded how lucky we are and how good life can be, especially on those days when everything seems to go wrong.
The quirky comedy The Details uses an exaggerated story and characters to create a wild world where a single decision can turn many lives upside down. The film asks us to imagine how one isolated moment has the power to change how people choose, feel and act. Without letting its desire to entertain get in the way of its objective to make us think, this movie reinforces one simple idea: No person’s life is isolated from another; together we live in a collective world where we all ultimately connect.
Tobey Maguire, in a rich performance that makes us forget the Spider Man episodes, portrays a young doctor with a dilemma: raccoons want to eat his newly installed lawn. Without consulting experts, he makes his own decision about how to address the animal nuisance. How the doctor chooses to approach this situation defines how he processes the options for his life. And the outcome of his actions actually determines the futures of many people, those closely connected as well as those in the casual distance.
The doctor’s life is certainly not simple. He experiences a stale relationship with his wife at the one-decade milestone in their marriage. He spends too much time on the computer and seeks questionable companionship. He so wants room in his house for a second child that he blatantly disobeys the town rules for expansion. He is so desperate to get rid of the invasive raccoons that he reaches beyond reason. And, when he panics, after making bad choices, he finds it difficult to remain grounded.
Moviemaker Jacob Aaron Estes, best known for writing Nearing Grace and Mean Creek, makes all this lunacy work because he grounds the characters in real emotions and issues. Maguire’s character, searching for answers to the questions of day-to-day life, is not a selfish man, simply an impatient one. Elizabeth Banks’ sympathetic wife and mother, or so we think for most of the film, creates an interesting contrast to Maguire’s priorities. Dennis Haysbert, disguised in a graying beard, is touching as a man positively impacted by Maguire’s generosity. Best of all, Laura Linney’s out-of-control next-door neighbor brings an irresistible exaggeration to a role that could have remained superficial. Linney’s uncanny ability to get underneath this character makes the woman fascinating.
Visually, The Details is reminiscent of Pushing Daisies, the sitcom of recent years that told its story in a distinct style. Whether or not Estes borrows this look on purpose is less the question than if the approach supports the material. As a director, Estes clearly understands what Estes the writer wants to accomplish. From its opening moments, The Details is consistent and clear in its point of view. For those willing to look at the world through this moviemaker’s eyes, Estes delivers a rich treat.
* Content: High. Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes creates an exaggerated but touching look at one man’s struggle to face the realities of his life.
* Entertainment: High. The film’s strong foundation in character gives its creator the chance to go anywhere he wants.
* Message: Medium. With such rich characters and odd situations, any clear moral message has the potential to get lost in all the wild proceedings.
* Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to escape the day-to-day pressures with an entertaining movie is always welcome.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. Adults who share the film should enjoy looking back at its most memorable moments.
(The Details is rated R for language, sexual content, some drug use and brief violence. The film runs 91 minutes.)
3-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
by Mark Schumann, The Reel Dad
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Each week, the Reel Dad looks at what is easily available on broadcast television and cable to help you make nutritious choices for what you and your family watch.
Choosing what movies to offer your family is a lot like planning what meals to serve. You want to savor something that you enjoy at the same time you want to nourish the mind and heart. Here are a couple of nutritional movies available this week on television for you and your family.
We look to movies to help us understand important social issues. Back in the 1960s, as long ago as that may seem, the topic of interracial marriage caused a great deal of public and private concern. Those with fundamental views argued that marriage should only be legal between two people of the same race; more progressive minds argued that the relationship, not the lineage, should be what matters. Stanley Kramer, a bold filmmaker of the day who addressed racial tension in his drama The Defiant Ones in the late 1950s, created a compelling look at the questions surrounding interracial marriage in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1967. And, instead of developing a traditional drama, he and screenwriter William Rose created a touching comedy that, because of its lighter touch, helped audiences get to the core of this important topic.
With a great deal of restraint, and a strong sense of compassion, Kramer and Rose deliver a wonderful look at one day in a family that wants to cross a bridge to greater understanding. That’s not easy because, at the start of the day, the daughter, a white woman, announces her plans to marry a black man. As the day progresses, and the parents examine their barriers and biases, we can each examine our own reactions to any potential for prejudice. And even though the look of the film may be dated, and some of its references are so 1960s, the relationships endure. This important film changed the social conversation of its day. And when we look at its message through the lens of its original time, we see how meaningful a daring movie can be. Set your DVRs for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, on Turner Classic Movies.
We also look to movies to help us remember important events. Of the great tragedies that have occurred in our world, few haunt contemporary thinking as the sinking of the USS Titanic in 1912. This incredible story, of a ship considered unsinkable until it met an ill-fated demise after being sliced by an iceberg, has fascinated historians and moviemakers for years. The film to tell this story is not the Oscar-winning Titanic from 1990; instead look to A Night to Remember, a semi-documentary from Great Britain from 1958 that explores, in great detail, what might have led to the most famous nautical disaster in history. Without the artificial love stories that overwhelmed the 1990 Hollywood version, this authentic telling of the tale focuses on the facts of the evening, the actions by the crew, the reactions of the passengers and, sadly, the ultimate lessons from such a tragedy.
Perhaps filmmaker Roy Ward Baker realized that there was enough drama in the actual events that he didn’t need to add fictional characters and artificial relationships. Because the film chooses to focus on the tragedy, and make the ship the star, Baker has screen time to truly explore why the ship could be vulnerable, how the crew reacted to the disaster, and, ultimately, how the passengers coped with this shocking and untimely event. The film is, as well, a fascinating look at the technology of the period, especially how people communicate, as well as the relations between the classes that influenced how different passengers were treated after disaster struck.
Certainly some of the approaches to visual effects look primitive. And, since this film was made, computers have enabled movies to create visual worlds that, before, could only be imagined. But computers are only as creative as the people who work them; and A Night to Remember reminds us that, before computers, when moviemakers had to tell stories without artificial supplements, the impact could be much more striking. Look for this on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.
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