We got vegetarian Chinese food – the place was like 15 minutes away, so we ordered, loaded the pup up in the car (with a sweater on) and headed out. He looked dopey with his red doggie vest on, but it’s cold out and he’s a Florida dog.
Minneapolis at 6pm on a Friday night is dark and for some reason the roads always look slick. It’s January. It’s cold, but not as cold as it normally gets, I’m told. When we had our slightly off center comic book movie double feature of Unbreakable and Watchmen, it was in the twenties, but today it’s dropped down to a high of 1. That’s a high of a single degree.
We picked up our Chinese food – General Tso’s with mock chicken, and some kind of Thai with mock beef – We parked on Eat Street, went in, picked our food up, and walked back to the car. I’d forgotten the pup was waiting there for a moment so I jumped a bit when I saw a nose pressed against the window with big brown eyes staring back at me. I got in and patted his snout and we went back home.
First movie: Unbreakable by M. Night Shyamalan.
We watched Unbreakable first. After eating our Chinese food. We came to the decision to eat first and then migrate to the couch based on how we didn’t want dog nose in our mock beef sauce and he can’t keep himself out of our personal bubbles. So, we sat at the table in my kitchen, chatted, drank dark beer, ate fake meat from paper containers, and then moved to the couch to watch the movie on blu-ray.
Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis, is a helluva good movie that holds up 16 years later. It’s a slow moving movie. It takes its time with revealing things about characters. How do we know Robin Wright and Bruce are having trouble in their marriage? Because we see her sleeping on the pullout sofa in the guest bedroom downstairs. We see Bruce tell her goodnight and walk upstairs where he’s sleeping in the same bed as their son. And even that – HE is the one sleeping in the bed with the son. Not the mom. It’s a weird twist that shows maybe how close he is to his kid, or maybe not- maybe since the split the kid is just afraid that his dad will leave? I really like when movies drop these very believable little details into a movie and don’t over explain them. Why? Well, because life is weird and messy like that. We don’t always get the explanations for why things happen.
Unbreakable also has great framing. I can’t remember if I read this, heard it on an interview, or came up with this myself – but M. Night frames so many of the shots like comic book panels. We’re watching Bruce talk to a woman on the train, but the camera is situated between the two cushions of the chairs in front of them. It goes back and forth from one to the other as they talk, only ever having one of them in the frame. There’s the scene in the hospital where Bruce is between the curtains and in the foreground someone is bleeding to death after the train wrecked. The shots give us the panels to watch these characters in.
The reveal of the super powers is great, too. Bruce learns about his strength when he finds he can lift all of the weights he owns at the same time. But here’s again where they did the right thing in this movie – it was a STRUGGLE for him to lift those weights. He could still do it, but it was an effort. A lesser movie would’ve had him lift the weights no problem. But here, it’s struggle. He’s pushing himself. Here’s the thing – if it’s not a struggle to do the great things our super-powered heroes do, then why do we rally behind them? You root for the underdog. You want the strongest guy to give it his all and persevere – if he doesn’t need to give it his all, it’s just some magician making it all look too easy.
Samuel L. Jackson is great in this movie, also. The evolution from sick little kid to (big spoiler alert here, if you haven’t already seen the movie) maniacal villain causing mass destruction is actually believable. His motivation is twisted but there’s a sick kind of logic propelled by the need to figure himself out. I can’t think of a single other villain who has that motive: I need to find my place in the world and why I exist. It’s so evil and so relatable at the same time, which is probably what makes it so good.
There’s the scene where he falls down the subway stairs while chasing the guy who Bruce had just kicked out of the stadium. He’s chasing him to see whether or not Bruce was right about having a gun tucked into his pants. In the midst of chasing him, Sam Jackson falls down the stairs- and since his character has a bone condition – we hear bones snapping and legs twisting in slow motion. It’s a brutal scene that shows off M. Night’s skill as a director. It felt cringe worthy and painful where I think in a different movie, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. I can’t tell if it was the specific angle that he shot it at or if it was the right amount of slow-mo. In any case, it was great.
The other Sam Jackson scene that stands out to me is after the accident where he fell down the stairs, and he’s in the comic book shop. He’s sitting in a wheel chair, completely expressionless. He’s downtrodden after hearing that Bruce actually isn’t invincible, that he was in the hospital after being almost drowned in a pool. They show Sam Jackson’s depressive state by having him sit there, spacing out, as the sweaty comic book shop owner guy tells him that he has to leave. The brilliant move of having Sam Jackson slam on the breaks periodically while being pushed out of the comic shop serves to move the plot forward. He figures out that Bruce’s sickness happened because of water- which is like his Kryptonite- after ramming into stacks of comics. The answer, the epiphany comes in the form of a comic book cover literally being dropped into his lap. There are so many terrible trope-y ways that we could’ve seen Sam Jackson come to the same conclusion- use of a montage with bad music, in a lab talking to himself, a conversation with another friend- but this way is so much more tasteful.
Probably the scene that makes most people uncomfortable, but is also one of the more humorous scenes in the movie is when Bruce’s son pulls a gun on him and his wife in the kitchen. After believing that his dad might actually have some sort of super powers, his son was excited. Bruce tells him that no, he doesn’t have powers and to prove his dad wrong, the son pulls a gun and threatens to shoot his dad to prove it. The scene was claustrophobic and tense. The shot lingered and there wasn’t overpowering music. It felt tense and real. But there was enough of a pressure release valve when Bruce says “Friends don’t shoot friends!” Every time I see this either me or someone I’m watching the movie with lets out the same kind of laugh: a short staccato bark that quickly gets enveloped by the seriousness on screen. Eventually they get the gun away from the kid and everyone on screen and off is relieved. They slump down onto the floor in the kitchen and I can finally easy back into my chair.
This movie is especially refreshing in the wake of plot-filled ensembles. I like my big budget action movies. I like huge explosions and gods in spandex walloping on each other. But there’s a place for these types of movies, too, in the universe of comic book adaptations. The slow moving considerate film that really lingers on the feeling of other-ness and things happening to yourself and others that you don’t quite understand. I’d like to see more of these for sure.
(Post-script: This entry kind of got away from me. I intended to write part two on the Watchmen, but I’ll have to save that for another post.)