"With Oscar nominations just days away, I've decided to send out mini reviews of a couple of movies in case anyone out there wants to catch up on their moviegoing this weekend. First and foremost, I wll recommend Monster, starring Charlize Theron as (fairly) recently executed serial killer Aileen Wuornos. In a lifetime of moviegoing, few films have ever elicted from me such an emotional response. Monster makes me weep for humanity. Aileen Wuornos was damaged goods almost from the time she was born. My post-viewing research has led me to believe that this woman, even as a young girl, suffered from sort of emotional or mental imbalance and probably what she needed most was someone to love her and take proper care of her; instead, she was thrown out on the streets when she was still in her teens (14-15, as I recall), and everything that was wrong with her was allowed to go untreated and just sort of snowballed; falling prey to prostitution certainly didn't help. If anything, I'm sure it only served to worsen her already anti-social behavior. The truth is this: nobody is born a monster...they (monsters, that is) are shaped by the circumstances that are thrown their way, and in Wuornos's case, very little of it was pretty, but, again, I think there is every reason to believe she suffered from sort of genuine disorder that went untreated. I'd like to think that if she'd gotten the help she so clearly needed, she would not have ever resorted to killing the way she did; so not only was her life damaged, but so were others--her victims and their families, and if this isn't enough for all of us to weep for humanity, I don't know what is. Monster stars beautiful South African reared actress Charlize Theron, who, until now, has made a career of being a decorative presence in movies (to be fair, some of the blame must be blamed on unimaginative Hollywood suits who just don't know what to do with a goddessy type like Theron). At any rate, Theron, who co-produced Monster (written and directed by Patty Jenkins) has not only effected a startlingly physical transformation as Wuornos, she's also reached into the innermost depths of her very being to bring out every possible emotion, every possible nuance, of this character's unsettling psychological makeup. The scene in which she professes herself a good person won't easily be forgotten (and that's just one of numerous highly charged moments). If there is any justice at all, Theron will win this year's Best Actress Oscar, and yet that (an Oscar) would almost serve to trivialize a harrowing real-life tragedy, not to mention doing the same (trivializing) what is truly a singular work of art, and make no mistake, that is exactly what this movie is: art of a most accomplished sort; one that could not have come easily for any of its participants. Still, if we are going to have Oscars, then, yes, Theron must be honored, for no other actress in 2003 has put as much on the line as she has in Monster. To clarify, this is not a movie that in any way excuses Wuornos for her actions; rather, the goal is to get as far inside her head as possible, to humanize her and show us that no one person on this earth is all one thing or another. Wuornos is a case study in extremes, but she was still human--and we must learn from that.
I also want to, on a lighter note, recommend Girl With a Pearl Earring, a meditation on 17th century Dutch painter Vermeer's famous painting (of the same name). The movie is based on a popular work of fiction (a hypothetical account of the painter's model, or alleged model, by Tracy Chevalier), and it doesn't offer much in the way of nail biting excitement--nor is it to be taken as the last word on Vermeer (about whom very little is known, anyway). This movie's most significant accomplishment is the way it apes Vermeer's style in image after image; in that regard it is dazzling, and deserves to be seen by anyone who is fan of Vermeer, or the art of cinematography itself. Remember, movies began as a visual medium, and every now and then we're lucky enough to get a film which celebrates that in a poetic--dare I say, painterly--and compelling way. In this instance, a round of applause to the great cinematographer Eduardo Serra (who, let's cross our fingers, will be nominated by his peers); he was previously nominated for 1997's luxe The Wings of the Dove. Girl With a Pearl Earring stars the always watchable Colin Firth and luscious newcomer Scarlett Johansson (of Lost in Translation and Ghost World), and is directed by Peter Webber. The screenplay is by Olivia Hetreed, with costumes by Dien Van Straalen. The Art Director is Christina Schaffer, and the Production Designer is Ben van Os. (Myself, I've never understood the distinction between those two job titles.) The score is by Alexandre Desplat. The movie was shot primarily in Luxembourg, but also Belgium and the Netherlands.
Both Monster and Girl With a Pearl Earring are must-sees."
Listening to: Miles Davis- Aura (1989). [He can still surprise me.]