A tale of two movies: You’ve got mail (1998)

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Just for fun, I thought I’d review an old favourite of mine today: You’ve got mail.

Along with disaster movies, I have a soft spot for rom-coms. You’ve got mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is one that resonates with me, because I met my wife online through an AOL chatroom (as the characters do), and it’s one of the first movies we watched together.

But the last time I watched it, something occurred to me that changed everything…

The Nice

The story is that our Meg lives a quiet life running a quiet bookshop in New York. She’s never wandered close to the cliff edges of her life and looked down, and she’s never thought about what would happen if the cliff ever gave way…

She talks online to a man she’s never met, spilling her innermost thoughts and desires to this man without even knowing his name. Unfortunately for her, the man is our Tom, who owns a mega-bookstore around the corner from Meg’s bookshop. It pushes our Meg over the edge of one of those cliffs.

Since Tom doesn’t know who Meg is either, much mis-understanding results until they all get it sorted out at the end. About halfway through, Tom figures it out, but realises he needs to change before Meg will go near him. He starts a project to win her over by getting to know her in real life.

And the ending where Meg is standing there figuring it all out as Tom walks towards her makes me tear up every time.

No, that’s just something in my eye, I’m not crying. You’re crying.

The Nasty

I work in a school, in IT, and one of the things we have to be aware of (and not just me, everyone who works here) is something called “safeguarding”. The internet, for all its wonders, is a dangerous place. There are people out there who want to groom our pupils for their own malicious ends.

So let’s look at You’ve got mail again:

Meg talks online to a man she’s never met, spilling her innermost thoughts and desires to this man without even knowing his name. They’ve agreed anonymity. Meg has no idea who she’s talking to, or what he’s doing with that information. She doesn’t even know if it’s one man or several sharing the same account. Some major red flags right there!

About halfway through, Tom figures it out. He doesn’t tell Meg this. He blatantly manipulates her throughout the rest of the movie, pulling her along. His online knowledge of her allows him to twist Meg into the shape he wants until she is convinced she’s in love with him.

At the same time, his online persona continues to tease her interest for the eventual meeting. Tom even says towards the end, “He waited until you were primed. Until you knew there was no other man you could ever love.”

Ted Bundy was charming too!

This is textbook grooming. Tom has cut Meg off from her boyfriend and isolated her from her business and her friends. He’s spun her and confused her enough that she can’t help fall in love with him. It’s like a manual of how to manipulate someone.

The second interpretation isn’t one I like to see when I watch this movie. But the subtext is there, never the less, and makes the outcome of the movie all the more disturbing because of it.

Not so cute now, huh?

Have you ever seen You’ve got mail? Do you think Tom is a sociopath or a good guy? Let me know!

Movies: First Man (and why I avoid Oscar movies)

2001? Nope, never heard of that movie.

First man is a potted biography of Neil Armstrong (You might have heard of him) from 1961 to the first moon landing in 1969 (I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone except those who think he didn’t go).

At times it felt like it was trying to out-odyssey “2001”

It started off shakily. Story wise, that is. The shaky camera work was pretty consistent all the way through, and it was damn annoying. At times it felt like it was trying to out-odyssey 2001: A space odyssey. There were lots of extreme eye close ups, lots of shaking heads and shaking rockets. Despite that, I enjoyed the dive into his character.

This man is so stoical he wouldn’t sweat if he was on fire.

Armstrong was a notoriously reclusive and private man, and the film gets that isolation across. He doesn’t even talk to his wife or his kids, but internalises everything. It’s tough, trying to live with us introverts sometimes, huh?

The background information makes it sounds like this man is so stoical he wouldn’t sweat if he was on fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, so much for that, then. He looks pretty happy and emotive to have walked on the moon to me.

It’s not a film I’d go out of my way to re-watch, but it was interesting to see someone who was so private portrayed on the screen. Kudos to Ryan Gosling for trying to act so emotional internally and not externally.

***

It reminded me of why I tend to avoid Oscar-heading movies. (You can always tell: They come out in January and have odd subjects or are biographies). They’re usually like this:

Man: I told you.

(Long, long, long pause in which the camera does not cut away and no one moves)

Woman: About what?

Man: (Inhales)

(Cut to woman who has not moved at all)

(Long, long, long pause in which the camera does not cut away and no one moves)

(Cut back to man)

Man: About Jack.

…and so on, for about three hours or more. Scenes which never end and go on for far too long without dialogue or moving the film forward at all.

First Man was bad for this when it started: We have a shot of Armstrong’s daughter (I’m presuming: It could be his niece for all we’re told) in hospital, some kind of machine looking at her.

We have no clue how the actors are feeling.

We have no idea what’s going on, since there’s no dialogue or exposition going on. Is she dying? We don’t have a clue until we see her being buried. Again, this goes on with minimal dialogue, so we have no clue how the actors are feeling in these scenes.

I don’t mind not being spoon fed for every scene. I don’t mind long scenes that do something for the movie. But Oscar-bait movies always go for these long, endless scenes with no exposition and no explanation of what’s happening. You can make a great movie without the pretention, folks!

Do you watch Oscar laden movies, or tend to avoid them? Let me know!

 

Movies: Groundhog Day (1993)

Testing the theory of gravity in the worst way possible.

“…standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

When I first stumbled across this movie by accident, I was unimpressed. It mostly seemed to be Bill Murray doing his usual cynical-guy routine, something he excels at and has honed to a fine art since the early 80s. Seen it, done it, bought the movies. Yawn.

I was expecting a mild comedy I’d watch once or twice, and planning to come away with maybe a chortle and possibly even a laugh or a guffaw. But that’s not what happened.

Suddenly I was watching a man deconstruct himself.

Something happened about halfway through the film that made me sit up and pay attention. I’m trying to identify the moment, and what woke me up was Phil listening to Mozart as he reads. He pauses, looks around and realises how simple and elegant the music is, how beautiful it sounds. I can almost see him wanting to get up and shake people and make them realise how precious the seconds of our lives are. And then he smiles and goes for piano lessons.

Suddenly I was watching a man deconstruct himself. He slowly breaks into parts and then re-builds himself in a better shape as I looked on. By the last act, I was hooked with the story and completely in love with this movie.

It’s one of what I call “seasonal” movies for me, an annual treat. As trite as it sounds, I always make a point of watching it in February. It’s so strongly linked in my head with late winter that when a TV channel played it in June this year, it wasn’t right at all.

This is a spring-and-hope-returning film, a promise of a new year just getting into its stride. Summer isn’t right for it, no more than winter is right for Weekend at Bernie’s.

Groundhog Day always makes me melancholy as it draws to its conclusion. I’ve been enjoying the experience so much, I don’t want it to end. I’ve had the same feeling with books I love: I see only thirty pages left, and realise I won’t be spending any more time with these people, and mourn that they’re gone from my life and their time is short.

I feel the same way about this. Too quickly, far too quickly, we’re into the third act, Phil is at that piano in front of everyone in the town, and I realise that my time with him is nearly over. This movie could be three hours long and I probably wouldn’t notice.

I always want the fantasy to continue for a little longer. As the credits roll, I imagine Phil and Rita living their eternity where it’s always February third…for both of them.

Goodbye, Phil. I’ll miss you. See you next year, old friend.

Do you have any “seasonal” films that you only watch at certain times of the year? Let me know!