Wednesday, March 21, 2007

REIGN OVER ME

Last night I went to “the world premiere” of REIGN OVER ME.

Adam Sandler proves he can play both comedy and tragedy in this film, if he hadn’t already proven it. He doesn’t have the capacity of a William Macey to disappear into a character, he’s more a “movie star” than “character actor”—but in REIGN OVER ME, he exceeds anything he’s done before as far as range goes, making me laugh out loud, and shed some tears, along with the rest of the audience.

Some of whom were NYU students—like the ones sitting on each side of me who seemed like they might wet their pants in their excitement over seeing Sandler live, matched only by their excitement at seeing shots of their school in the film.

Some were the rich and famous—like Will Smith, with his wife Jada, who is in the movie, doing her usual solid job and looking fine but not as sweet and petite as I discovered she does in person.

And some were famous, and I assume rich, but also unbelievably beautiful—like Saffron Burrows and Liv Tyler, both taller than me in their heels, and I can pass for six feet.

And some were just famous, and maybe rich but not as rich—like Salaman Rushdie, who I couldn’t figure out what he was doing there except that he’s famous and it was a premiere.

But the point of this post isn’t how envious all that could have made me feel, and used to, not for the riches—which for whatever reason I never coveted and still don’t, though I envied the financial security—nor the fame—which I admit I used to desire but don’t anymore—but for the opportunity to do the work you love and get it out to the size of audiences most half-way successful movies eventually reach, and in the case of REIGN OVER ME, this should be an enormously successful film.

Not just because Mike Binder, its creator in every sense of the word (i.e. “writer-director”) is really good at what he does (see his last film, THE UP SIDE OF ANGER, to see how good a director he is, it’s Kevin Costner’s best acting job, period, not to mention how great the script Binder wrote for that film is) but because he has “the great Don Cheadle”—as he kept being called, correctly, last night—in it.

As far as I’m concerned Cheadle should have collected several Oscars by now. This film is in many ways an opportunity for him to also demonstrate his chops on both ends of the acting spectrum—comedy to tragedy—and as always, he does it spectacularly well.

Are there any caveats to all this praise? No. Any quibbles are too miniscule to matter in a film that addresses the angst of these times as directly as a film yet has, and still makes you laugh and cry, and both for good reason, even if you didn’t lose anyone personally on 9/11, or since.

If you go back over Binder’s films, he is slowly but surely becoming the heir to the legacy of his idol Woody Allen. A different sensibility, more of his generation than Allen’s, more Midwest than Manhattan (until REIGN OVER ME), more confidently sexual, and more varied, including Binder’s non-lead roles in his movies.

And (disclaimer) I don’t feel that way just because he’s an old friend who I knew when we both were broke and unknown. I have trouble faking appreciation for any art I don’t really dig, it’s not in me.

After I saw UP SIDE OF ANGER, I knew his talent had grown with the years (though he was good from the start, see his earlier flick COUP DE VILLE) and he was at what seemed the peak of his game, but as I told him last night, “Motherfucker, you ain’t peaked yet” (I revert to my younger street persona when I get excited, or angry) meaning simply that REIGN OVER ME takes his talent even further, addressing concerns even more “important” and necessary to be addressed before it is too late, for us as individuals as well as the human race.

Okay, that may sound a little over the top, but when I see what these times are doing to people who I love and admire, or just care about the older I get, as if they too were my kids.

Like when I checked the blogs I recommend down to the right, and came across a post on anger at strange duck, I felt the need to say what my dear departed friend and mentor Hubert Selby Jr. used to say to me, and he was the angriest man I ever knew (just go read his books to see how much his mind was like Nina’s in her anger post—or on her other website in her wipe-out-all-humans post—like his REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, the mildest in many ways, or THE DEMON, or WAITING PERIOD, et. al.). He used to say to me, “Anger is just a form fear takes” (which REIGN OVER ME beautifully demonstrates) “so what are you afraid of?”

I loved him, because he was as angry as me but transcended that anger to help others and still do the work some of us needed, or at least I did.

And now I get where he was coming from. The closer I’ve gotten to death, the more I want to stick around, despite the shit, and in gratitude for the beauty (like the lifeguard photo on nothing absolute or K’s photos on jimsonweed, or the jazz photos Tom posted on his site, coolbirth, and the music I love that they evoke, etc.).

Yes, at that “world premiere” last night in Manhattan I knew how to surrender the old fear that I had “failed”—because the paparazzi ignored me as I entered and later when I left—so that I looked forward to catching the subway to Penn Station and New Jersey Transit to my cozy apartment and laptop filled with some of my latest writings, and some of yours.

Pretty much the only thing we can control in this sometimes horrible, sometimes wonderful, mostly a combination of both, world we live in is our reactions (the point of Nina’s anger post as well as of REIGN OVER ME). And what I’ve learned is, if I close my heart to protect myself out of fear of being hurt any further, that closing only causes more “pain” (existential, psychological, mental, emotional, soul pain) for which the only relief is to open my heart again.

And the only thing I know guaranteed to open the heart is gratitude.

In my case, for another day of life, for the eyesight and the mental capacity to still write (and read and watch movies and appreciate beauty, like yours, and unlike yours) despite the pain of seeing my children’s struggles to overcome their own reactions to the problems of this world, and others I feel for like they were my children too, even some my age and older who feel like family, the human family, struggling to overcome the horror of death and destruction which is inevitable for us as well as for everything else, and all I can think of is the old carpe diem, seize the day, ‘cause who knows what tomorrow may bring, and all those old clichés.

REIGN OVER ME, check it out, with an open heart; you won’t be sorry.

3 comments:

AlamedaTom said...

Lal:

What a great post. Thanks for bringin' it from the heart.

I'm glad you mentioned Upside of Anger, which is one of my favorite films. Aside from Costner (you're right, it is about his best performance), Joan Allen is incendiary. She is one of the most underrated actors, period. I love every movie I've ever seen her in (check out "The Contender" if you haven't seen it), but in Upside of Anger she is sublimely astonishing. And, I love the daughters in Upside - talk about some nifty casting! My final thought about Upside (which you failed to mention) is that Binder cast himself as the sleazy, least likable character in Upside, "Shep." That showed me a lot about the guy.

I usually find it hard to watch a movie more than once, but I confess to having watched Upside three unapologetic times, and I'm ready for a fourth.

I'm definitely going to check out Reign Over Me.

ciao,

T.

Nina said...

Michael,
This was my favorite part of your post: "as I told him last night, “Motherfucker, you ain’t peaked yet” (I revert to my younger street persona when I get excited, or angry)"- I burst out laughing when I read it. In part because I can imagine you saying it and also b/c of your explanation, which was well put and which I can identify with.

There's a ton of stuff in this post to think about, but I'll comment on "The Upside of Anger" as well. As I recall, they marketed that movie as a comedy, which is what I expected when I rented it. Instead it was this fucked up drama with comedic moments. I dug it but felt emotionally drained by its end. Also, I was horrified by the ending. So much time and energy invested in being angry, all over a fantasy. I guess her anger did work for her in a some ways- her relationship with Kevin Costner's character ends up being good for her. But I could relate to the way she made up stories about what her husband was doing and what he was thinking/ feeling, what his intentions were. I do that all the time. I project my fears onto others, believing that they think the worst of me. I see myself as inadequate in countless ways, so I believe others must as well.
Whenever I don't have enough information about a person or a situation, I make it up in my head. Most of my reactions are based on what I think others are thinking. Who cares about what's real or true when my inagination allows me to continue behaving like a psycho.

Anyway, reading your post and thinking about The Upside of Anger has me considering the long term effects of my anger, and how my life and the people I love will be (and currently are) affected by it. Will I look back and see that the only thing I ever fought was myself? Will I have missed out on good, easy times because of my commitment to my rage? -I know that I already have.
Will I see the pain and stress that I've caused myself and the people I care about and wish I could undo it all?
I don't want to be a regretter. As I've told you, I'm not so great with the seize the day stuff, b/c of all the fear I carry with me. And I know that the best way for me to feel free of all the anger, resentment and fear is to write it out of me. But I also resent that whole process, so I resist it.
I guess the bottom line is that I already feel as though I've wasted so much time, I don't want to waste more. What am I willing to do about it?

And I'm thinking that I should have emailed you this response instead of posting it here. But, whatever.

tore claesson said...

Just love your movie reviews.
As with everything you write they mix in a review of your own life in relation to the movies.
Isn't that how we all relate to movies, and books and art? But rarely dares to admit.
t.