I guess it’s obvious to anyone reading this blog that I love talking about movies and will do it anywhere, anytime, even at work. I’ve often exchanged movies with co-workers, discussed them, and enjoyed the conversations that ensued. So when my co-worker Beckie expressed an interest in such an exchange, how could I say no?
Now Beckie knows the kind of movies I watch, which is practically anything, but I tend to favor film noir, classic movies, international cinema, or things that are slightly off (or far off) the beaten path. When I recently told her my intention to watch the 13-hour Out 1 (in French, with English subtitles), she sat in her office shaking her head and waving her hands. “I have the movie tastes of a 14-year-old boy,” she said.
With each of us understanding what the other likes, we decided to exchange five films each, films that probably weren’t on the other person’s radar, films that mean something to us, films that we hope the other person will enjoy. We asked each other a few questions before we started. I wanted to see if Beckie was willing to watch any international films with subtitles (she wasn’t) and I wanted to make sure she would be okay with black-and-white films (she didn’t mind that). I also tried to pick some films that were fairly current (2010 and up) as well as a few classics. I didn’t pick any silent films (this time). Most of Beckie’s movies are from the 2000s and up, with one in the late 80s. One is a documentary.
We originally came up with 10 films each, knowing that some of our picks had probably already been seen by the other person. I think we had both seen five films from the other person’s list, but we did each come up with five we hadn’t seen. We each picked a movie from the other person’s list that we’d like to start with. Those first picks are:
Beckie’s pick for me: Step Brothers (2008) directed by Adam McKay
My pick for Beckie: Ace in the Hole (1951) directed by Billy Wilder
I think I liked Step Brothers more than Beckie thought I would. She’s a huge Will Ferrell fan and a pretty substantial John C. Reilly fan as well. I have seen more John C. Reilly films (mainly due to being a Paul Thomas Anderson fan) than I have Will Farrell films, but enjoy them both for different reasons. I enjoyed the performances of the two leads (and also of Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen) and liked director Adam McKay’s poking fun at the problem (phenomenon? tragedy?) of guys in their 30s or older living at home with their parents.
I mentioned to Beckie that this is seems a “vehicle” film, although that term has changed over the years. Clearly this is a film designed to bring in fans of both Ferrell and Reilly, which is fine. I don’t know how much of a script was in place and how much freedom the two leads had to do their thing, which is also fine. The film has a definite level of predictability (which, again, is also fine), but I did enjoy it.
Beckie mentioned that this is something of a “comfort movie” for her, that she’s seen it many times and can pop it in the DVD player at pretty much any time. “It’s just a stupid movie,” she said. “Not necessarily,” I said. As I mentioned earlier, I think that amid the laughs there’s a real satirical look at our culture on multiple levels.
For those unfamiliar with Ace in the Hole, the film tells the story of Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), a once-famous newspaper reporter stuck on a small paper in Albuquerque. When Tatum learns of a man trapped in a cave-in, he sees this as the story that’s going to get him back in the big leagues of newspapermen.
The first thing that Beckie mentioned about Ace in the Hole was the acting. She felt that much of it was what she considered “over the top” and wondered if all acting from this era was like this. I told her that I didn’t really think of it as over the top, although I can see how she might infer that just from the acting of Kirk Douglas. I think part of that is Douglas being Douglas, part of that is the character of Chuck Tatum, and part of it is the era in which the film was made. Part of that era includes the Hays Code, which didn’t allow writers to write perhaps the dialogue they wanted to write, so much of what they wanted to say had to be reflected in a tone of voice, or other ways in which lines were delivered.
I mentioned to Beckie that Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors, also mentioning that he directed Double Indemnity, which we had just screened at the library’s Great Movies program. Beckie mentioned that she’d never really thought about directors before and that “You think about movies way more than I do,” but I told her that I believe the director’s influence and direction (to choose a totally obvious word!) often give a movie a certain look and feel that make it clearly unique. (Now we didn’t go into it, but I am not a huge proponent of the auteur theory. The director is important, but so are the writers, cinematographers, editors, etc. Another topic for another time.)
I asked Beckie whom she thought was the more despicable character, Chuck Tatum (Douglas) or Lorraine Minosa (Jan Sterling), the indifferent wife of the trapped man. It’s a tough call, but I think we both fall on the side of Tatum getting the bulk of the blame. Lorraine is scolded only by Tatum, which is definitely the pot calling the kettle black, but his main purpose is to sell more newspapers. (Or is it?) Tatum is surrounded on all sides with religious imagery: crosses hung on walls, people praying for the trapped man, a priest, and even non-religious messages like the “Tell the Truth” embroidery hanging in the newspaper office.
I’m really enjoying our movie exchange program and I think Beckie is as well. Next time I’ll look at the next movie Beckie picked for me (The ‘Burbs) and the one I picked for her (Locke).