Friday, June 09, 2006

Camera Obscura - The Smith Marriage, More Chainsaws and A Concert At The Ryman

If someone had told me I would actually spend time reviewing a movie starring the two most overexposed actors working today, I would have denied any such effort. Then I watched the movie and it simply impressed me on so many levels that I find myself doing the impossible -- devoting blogspace to "Mr & Mrs Smith" starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

But bear with me - this movie is far more than meets the tabloid eye. There is sub-text for days here, and it also holds some other credentials worth noting. The script is by Simon Kinberg, who penned the script as part of his Masters Thesis and his most recent effort is the new "X-Men" movie. The director, Doug Liman, is a talent just beginning to emerge, with the breathless "Bourne Identity" and as producer of "Bourne Supremacy," plus the very-underrated "Go" set in the world of ravers, and the hilarious "Swingers."

At one point, director John Woo was set to direct, and his style is surely evident here in several action sequences.

Now, I'm not here to sing praises of the publicity overdose of Pitt and Jolie. In fact, more than once you catch a gleam in their eyes that all the automatic weapons fire on-screen fulfills their deepest desires toward a relentless press bent on chronicling the couple's every footstep.

Instead, why not examine the movie for what it truly is - a metaphor for marriage and relationships.

Given the insane reality that domestic violence is far too common today, that the 'sanctity' of marriage is as likely to lead to divorce as to an anniversary, the movie here holds a rich exploration on the state of romance and marriage American style.

The movie opens on the Smiths in couples therapy. They are unable to communicate not only their problems, but their successes. Through a series of following scenes, we discover the why - each partner holds secrets they feel too personal or too dangerous to actually share with each other. The conceit is that they are both spies - Spies in the House of Love.

With much humor, the audience sees that Mr Smith keeps his deadly arsenal of weapons in a secret passage in his workshed while Mrs Smith keeps her arsenal in a secret compartment of the stove. One-liners of empty conversations reinforce the blank emptiness of marriage and secrets too great to reveal. Each line has double meanings. Fear and doubt rule their marriage.

The script doesn't dwell on who each agent is working for - that's not the point. It's that the couple feel compelled to fill their lives and dreams in fantasies that would terrify Walter Mitty. The driving demands of work leave little for the home life, though business success makes for an astonishingly well-appointed home. But they can barely have a conversation about the drapes or even if a conversation about such accessories even occurred.

Once each competing spy agency realizes the couple is, well, a couple, they plot to have them kill each other. (That could be a writing weakness, but I see it as more that the demands of business outweigh any needs of a stable home.)

However, by bringing them face-to-face in combat to kill each other, the couple sees that the only allies for their lives and their hopes reside in each other. After some intense attacks on each other, there is a near-wordless realization that resolution lies within themselves and all the unspoken moments past can't overwhelm their depth of feeling for each other.

No, this isn't the height of meta-philosophy, but it does paint a picture of an American couple constantly warring to balance work and love. The secrets that might undo them unite them instead.

Writer and director make marvelous set-pieces of danger built on the world of the typical American couple - such as a car chase scene where the SUV with its double doors spells doom for assassins. Sometimes it's best to let the wife do the driving.

Real-life tabloidism is certainly here in the movie too with Vince Vaughn in a barely defined role. And as cute and likeable an actress Jennifer Anniston may be, the kind of knock-down-the-house love-making Mr and Mrs Smith enjoy makes other romance movies miss the passion and the danger of an intense relationship by miles.

The violence is there in the film, but it emerges far ahead of other "doomed romance" Hollywood efforts like the brutal end of "Bonnie and Clyde" or "War of the Roses." The Smiths revel in the irony and humor and will fight far more aggressively to find a solution to their marriage woes. (No Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan tearjerker approaches the artistic artistry of the Smiths.)

At one point, Mrs Smith says "Happy endings are stories that just aren't finished yet," which to me indicates they feel more than capable of crafting their own story and their own ending. Near the end, they square off against a literal army of attackers and they join in a ballet of cooperation which I found to be a forceful refusal to accept the roles society has heaped upon the Smiths.

As a side note, please fire the next witless reporter whose best prose is to make a single catchy name of two people.

Scoff at these comments about Mr and Mrs Smith as you wish, but until you watch it with your tabloid mentality shut down, I think you'll find some provocative entertainment.


A fine concert movie filmed at the famed Ryman Auditorium hits DVD this week, and judging by the clips I've seen, it looks to be one of the best concert films since "The Last Waltz". The movie, "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" also features Emmylou Harris. Young plays new and older songs, expertly filmed by Jonathon Demme, who made the equally entertaining Talking Heads concert movie "Stop Making Sense."

At several points, the aging rocker talks about his music and his musings to the crowd, noting that the guitar he played was once owned by Hank Williams. But the music is the focus here, presented in a stripped down acoustic form that highlights both the lyrics and the tunes.
From the Did We Need This Dept.?

A prequel to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"??? One good point is the script by award-winning horror writer David Schow. And the trailer at the official site says it's so scary, you can only watch it after 10 p.m. (Or it may be the whole idea is so bad, only late-nite Web Walkers will watch it.)


Rumors are flying that New Line Cinema hopes to make an American version of one of the great classics in recent Japanese cinema, "Battle Royale." Banned here and abroad, please, please do NOT watch the movie unless you see the original. And if you prefer, the novel the movie is based on is even more astonishing.

Also, for those who might be interested, the "new" "The Omen" movie is a pure shot-for-shot remake of the original. And the original is better.


  1. (Yes, that's a single catchy name made from the names of two old married folk. Our sister-in-law started calling us that 10 years ago.)

    We were just talking today about how too many couples treat each other as the enemy rather than partners. Dumb.

    Thanks for the movie review.

  2. Most welcome here each and every Friday for film reviews, The Glenifer! You're welcome any day in fact - and if you ever have a suggestion for a review or topic, feel free to send one in!

    And nicknames made by relatives are jes' fine by me - its that faux entertainment news shorthand that irriates me like mad.

    Sounds like your partner approach is the one that makes much sense. congrats on 10 years!

  3. AT and I have been huge fans of Battle Royale for a couple of years now. We recently obtained the sequel, which was damn near impossible to watch, especially without Takeshi Kitano in it.
    We probably won't be watching the remake. No one can do it better than the Japanese.
    By the way, have you seen Volcano High, Joe?

  4. I was so unnerved and entertained by Battle Royale - heard the sequel wasn't nearly as good. Oddly, watching the movie after I'd read the novel made it even more terrifying and grim - would like to read the manga version of the book too.

    I've heard of Volcano High and since you've mentioned it, it's in my NetFlix list now! Thanks!

    The Asian cinema is really making astounding movies -- the original version of "pulse" released finally just months ahead of a US remake had me jumping at shadows for days. that is a sheer masterpiece!

  5. Where did you find "Battle Royale"? I have been hearing about this movie for years and it is a must see.

    Also, I really liked "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". It was clever, and Angelina is purty.

  6. wednesday, I ordered mine online, perhaps from a store specializing in asian films... it's been a while. You won't find it for sale in any physical store around here any time soon, I think.
    joe, I've not seen Pulse, but I'll have to look it up now. I re-watched the Ju-on original of The Grudge (there's eleventybillion ju-ons) and it wasn't nearly as scary the second time. I still covered my eyes when she crawled down the stairs, though. ;)