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Reviews of TransAmerica and The New World

Mark Palermo watches movies and more.



Do moviegoers still like movies, or do they just like going to them?

I had a curious experience at The New World the other night. The theatre was full almost to capacity. Then, about an hour into the movie, people started filing out. A new group would make their exit every five minutes or so. One guy sitting a couple rows behind me found a more creative — and hardly less distracting — way of expressing his displeasure. He’d cough, but allow the cough to filter into a sigh of defeat. It would be like “coughhuuuuuuuuuuuhhohman.”

Some jackass beside me kept bugging his girlfriend to leave, and she’d say, “It’s almost over, anyway.” This might have been a good time for me to point out that the movie is 2.5 hours, not 80 minutes, because the guy would start spastically shaking his leg to show that he was bored. Is this some way of convincing your fucking girlfriend that you have to go to the bathroom? Just go. Not all movies can be Monster-In-Law.

When the end credits came up, the audience let out a collective laugh! It was as though they’d survived some practical joke, and were now all sharing the joy of relief.

Some dude announced, “That was the longest, dumbest fucking movie ever!” No life is complete without feeling you’ve discovered something.

Finally, as I’m walking out through the Empire front entrance, an older couple starts discussing the film. “Did you like that?”

“I don’t know. I slept through the first four hours of it.”

OK, I’ll concede that one was sort of clever. Aging = time to craft better putdowns.

I don’t remember audiences LIKING The Thin Red Line, but I certainly don’t recall it getting this hostile a response. We’ve changed so much in seven years. American life, portrayed inclusively, optimistically in The New World and TransAmerica was met with that opening night crowd’s close-minded reception. The situation mirrors the quandary about the need to categorize difference that Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) raises in Malick’s film. Looking at a map of the world, she asks, “Why does the earth have colours?”

TransAmerica follows a man’s effort to find harmony with his world. Soon to undergo surgery that will make him a woman, Bree (Felicity Huffman) is encouraged by his surgeon to meet with his long-lost teenage son Toby (Kevin Zegers). He finds himself incapable to inform the troubled Toby of their relation, much less that he’s currently still a man. But they slowly strike an unassuming friendship — the non-judgemental company of misfits.

The material’s tricky enough, one can’t help wonder how groundbreaking TransAmerica might have been had the Farrelly brothers taken it on. The challenge of Huffman’s role isn’t just in physical terms, but also in Bree’s conflicted state of serving at once as Toby’s father, mother and friend.

Director Duncan Tucker’s ugly, flat visuals disservice the character; it’s up to the script and performance to save Bree from appearing as a freak, an effect that takes longer than it deserves.

Malick, on the other hand, finds a magisterial beauty in young Kilcher’s Pocahontas that commands the screen. The New World may not be free of the director’s self-important narration — although his restraint in letting great images speak for themselves has definitely improved in the years since he made The Thin Red Line. The almost silent film quality of The New World’s nature sequences, cut to classical music, rewards patience. It’s the discovery of a new world conveyed through a filmmaker’s distinctive way of seeing. Open to it, and it’s hypnotic. Like TransAmerica, its flaws aren’t worth the outrage. These movies are for real.

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