“Little Miss Sunshine”
Fox Searchlight Pictures
I loved this movie—I’ll even overlook the indie-film stereotypes in the characters because every actor manages to dig deep and come up with profoundity and pathos. The story is rife with conflict and angst, and it’s real. Every character in the film is everyone we’ve ever met, been related to or slept with and it’s delivered within the context of a very clean road movie.
Richard’s (Greg Kinnear) goal is to become a motivational speaker, even if he can’t motivate his own family. His wife, Sheryl (an underused Toni Collette) exists only to hold everyone else together, and her clichéd role in the family is the script’s most glaring flaw. Teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), who worships Friedrich Nietzche, doesn’t speak because he has taken a vow of silence until he is accepted to the Air Force Academy. Foul-mouthed Grandpa (Alan Arkin) snorts herion. Sheryl’s brother Frank (Steve Carell), a lovelorn college professor, recently tried to commit suicide because his grad student boyfriend jilted him for a rival professor. The family’s youngest member, Olive (Abigail Breslin) hopes to win a junior beauty contest. There is no standout performance because the ensemble is so sturdy. Much of the story is predictable, but not what happens when Olive takes the stage at the beauty pageant.
First-time scribe Michael Arndt demonstrates how perfection is found in simplicity, because he delivers a sublime ending that brings it all home—and not by using the same road that brought us there.
“World Trade Center”
Paramount Home Video
Director Oliver Stone taps into great reserves of undiscovered subtlety and, in a rare move, he avoids politics. The two main characters, New York Port Authority police officers McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), who become trapped between the two collapsed towers, don’t realize that terrorists attacked America. They have bigger fish to fry: staying alive. “World Trade Center” is about heroism and how the worst circumstances can bring out the best in people. Even though this concept is not explored as deeply as we remember during the actual events, Stone makes an admirable attempt.
McLoughlin and Jimeno were among the police officers, fire fighters and paramedics who were in the World Trade Center when the twin towers collapsed. Two other members of their team were killed instantly. The final man, Dominick Pezzula (Jay Hernandez), survived the collapse of the first tower, but not the second. Although Stone played loose with historical facts in previous films, he clings conscientiously to realism here.
The set design and special effects of the rubble at Ground Zero are remarkably realistic. Even though Stone has to depend on heavy CGI to accomplish much of this, he does blend actual footage with his shots to recreate the scene in great detail.
Cage and Pena deserve high praise for revealing so much about their characters with only their heads and shoulders visible. As hard as this was for me to watch, Stone is very sensitive to the collective pain and anxiety that we all still carry.–D.L.