It’s that time of the year when all the movies designed for Oscar glory are released on to not the unsuspecting masses (who often have to wait months or weeks for a wide release) but the suspecting elite.
A lot of this annual burst of energy seems to have been absorbed or deflected by anti-war films. It’s still possible these films will carry home Oscars, but I think Hollywood likes to be popular as well as right, and with the way the war seems to be going these days, rewarding anti-war films may prove to be neither.
And so we have a strange little low-budget film, The Man In The Chair, from Michael Schroeder, a man probably best known for introducing the world to a (occasionally topless) 17-year-old Angelina Jolie in the even lower budget Cyborg 2. (I have to admit I find that film watchable but that may have more to do with comparing the Jolie of then–awkward but still with a sort of presence–to the Jolie of now than any other quality of the film.)
Christopher Plummer plays lighting man “Flash Madden” who wanders around L.A. reading, drinking, smoking cuban cigars, and yelling at the screen at the Beverly, much to the amusement of juvenile delinquent Cameron Kincaid (played by Michael Angara) who spends his time in-between school and getting tossed in jail dreaming of making a movie.
This is to Christopher Plummer what last year’s Venus was for Peter O’Toole. A film that no one is going to see, but which shows the old man’s chops and gives him a shot at the little gold statue. ‘course, O’Toole missed out on his because the Academy had given him a “get this guy an Oscar before he croaks” award in the previous years.
Plummer is not the icon O’Toole was, but his age shows far less on his face. A lot of the wide-open expressions O’Toole has used his whole career look overly broad now, with age pulling his long face down even longer. Plummer (who is three years older) seems young by comparison.
And he is good, as you might imagine. As is M. Emmet Walsh, letting himself be filmed in a most unflattering way. Robert Wagner joins the crew as the still rakishly good looking and rich arch-rival. (Also with a small role is one of my favorite character actors, George Murdock.) Another remarkably well-preserved specimen in the cast is the very lovely 65-year-old Margaret Blye
Am I obsessing on age here? Well, yeah, because the movie’s about aging and what we do with the aged. Also, the cast is ten years too young. Flash was a young gaffer on Citizen Kane…but I kept thinking, “okay, he had to be born in 1920, making him 87…no way is Plummer 87.” (He’s 78.)
If I had to describe this movie in ten words or less, I’d call it “an afterschool special on steroids”. It’s very well done with a top-notch cast, tightly directed and edited (though with a gratuitous shaky-blurry-cam scene transition effect, in a style most commonly used by zombie horror flicks).
The story is kind of pat, a little clichéd, a bit run-of-the-mill. Old people teaching younger people, and aren’t we horrible for not taking better care of, and respecting our senior citizens? Flash, through his horrible life mistakes, has learned that he might be better off now, if only he hadn’t treated people so badly through the rest of his life.
Except, well, we’re never sure about Mickey Hopkins (Walsh’s character) who seems to have been abandoned by his daughter. He seems like a very nice fellow but he can’t get his daughter to talk to him for five minutes.
I actually felt a sort of blowback after seeing this film. Are we supposed to generically care about old people? And take care of them? Even when they had an entire life to cultivate friends and family and did none of that? Do we feel sorry or empathize when they reach the end of that life alone?
Well, yeah, we do. But maybe somewhat begrudgingly.
Another thing that sort of annoyed me: One of the old characters dies in this film. I won’t say who it is so as not to spoil anything but I will say I both saw it coming and hoped it wouldn’t as soon as I realized what the movie was about. OK, if you’re watching a movie about old people, it’s natural some might die, especially if the movie spans the course of a year or longer.
This movie takes place over three weeks.
And the character just…dies. Rather conveniently, too. But unnecessarily, except maybe to give the whole thing a little more gravitas (and hopeful Oscar contenders a meaty scene).
What I liked about this film was the idea that, in the retirement homes of the San Fernando Valley, you could find a top-level crew still capable of making a high quality movie. A highly romantic notion, to be sure, and one that would’ve been better served by the whole crew getting together for ANOTHER movie after shooting the first one.
Nonetheless, it’s a good film, with Oscar-worthy performances.