The Mark Ruffalo Effect

December 1st, 2010

If you’re like me, you probably spent the holiday weekend eating, shopping, and watching movies. I have to send most of what I bought back because of course I bought it online and it’s way too small (this probably would not be the case if I hadn’t also bought ten boxes of peppermint bark from Crate and Barrel. For myself).

I do not suggest bathing suit shopping at this time of year. I don’t know what I was thinking.

But anyway, here are some of the movies I watched:

The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right is a movie about a family just like yours, except that it has two moms. I’m not saying your family doesn’t have two moms, because it might. It’s just that I doubt your two moms are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.

In The Kids Are All Right, the teenage children of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore decide that it’s time to meet their birth father, a sperm donor. This decision catapults the family into (mostly comedic) disruption. The birth father is played by Mark Ruffalo.

This fact caused a disruption in my household, too.

“Is Mark Ruffalo in this movie?” my husband wanted to know.

Me:
“Maybe. I don’t think so. No, definitely not.”

For reasons unknown, He Who Shall Not Be Known In This Blog has had a long-standing feud with the actor Mark Ruffalo, whom he has never met. So the feud is one-sided.

Him:
“What? That IS Mark Ruffalo! Were you trying to trick me? I am not watching this.”

Me:
“Why? What did Mark Ruffalo ever do to you? He is a talented actor who once nearly died of a brain tumor. Then he rehabilitated himself, and has gone on to star in many fine films such as this one. What is your problem with Mark Ruffalo?”

Him:
“Just look at him! The smug bastard.”

Me:
“He is not a smug bastard. He’s hot. He looks a little like you.”

Him:
“Don’t even try. Look how he’s driving that motorcycle.”

Me:
“You’d look hot on a motorcycle like that.”

Him:
“You wish I would buy a motorcycle like that and die on it in a fiery crash so you could marry Mark Ruffalo, don’t you?”

This went on until the end of the movie, when Mark Ruffalo “got what he deserved,” although apparently not quite entirely, in the opinion of my husband.

Him:
“Those lesbians should have beaten him to death with baseball bats. That would have been a better ending.”

Obviously, we needed something to calm us down after the Mark Ruffalo debacle. So I popped in the movie Inception, which seemed like it would be harmless enough.

Inception is a movie starring Leonardo di Caprio about a man who, for a fee and along with a team of his own employees, will go into your enemy’s dreams and steal them. He does this for purposes of corporate espionage.

If you can get past the idea that it is possible for one person to walk into another person’s dreams, let alone do it with a whole team of other people, Inception is a fun movie, even though I couldn’t understand anything that was going on almost the entire time, because it was hard to tell when the characters were awake and when they were dreaming.

Me:
“What is happening? I don’t understand. Are they awake or is this a dream? Is this the future? Or is this happening now?”

Him:
“I’m still mad that you want me to die so you can be with Mark Ruffalo.”

This was somewhat reminiscent of the time we showed my mom’s boyfriend (my former teacher) the movie Galaxy Quest, which is about a group of actors on present day Earth who play characters on a TV show set in the future about a team of interstellar space travelers who then, while attending a real life sci-fi convention, get kidnapped by actual space aliens, who believe their TV show is real and who worship them as gods.

My mom’s boyfriend:
“What is happening? I don’t understand. Is this a TV show or a movie? Is this the future? Or is this really happening?”

Me:
“I’m still mad at you for having sex with my mom.”

Inception seemed overly complicated by the fact that Leonardo di Caprio kept allowing his own dreams to enter the dreams of the person whose dream he was supposed to be stealing. And as if that were not enough, there is this whole segment of the population who saw this movie and interpreted the ending differently than I did . . . they insist that the entire story was Leonardo di Caprio’s dream to begin with, not the man whose dream he was hired to go into, and so none of it ever even really happened.

Hearing that, I felt exactly like my mom’s boyfriend must have over Galaxy Quest. Except that I am not having sex with my mother. And if I were I would totally stab my eyes out with a brooch, just like Oedipus Rex.

So, anyway, after that, the Mark Ruffalo effect was still holding strong. I was like, “I just want to watch a simple murder mystery. What else is there? Oh, look! We have Shutter Island! I know someone who had a panic attack watching this! Happy Thanksgiving to us! Let’s go for it.”

Shutter Island also stars Leonardo di Caprio. It’s based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who wrote Gone Baby Gone, one of my favorite books and movies of all time.

I don’t know why I thought I would have an easier time understanding this movie than Inception, but for about four-fifths of the movie, things went pretty smoothly. It started out as an excellent mystery, and very film noirish, about a US marshal in the 1950s trying to solve a missing person’s case in a mental institution (complete with evil Nazi doctors) on a small island during a hurricane.

Sounds great, right?

It is, until it comes to the last fifth of the movie, when it turns out . . . (Don’t read this part if you don’t want spoilers . . . )

It’s all a dream! Just like Inception!

Well, not really a dream, but the missing person is actually Leonardo di Caprio, one of the mental patients on the island, on whom the doctors are doing some kind of weird experimental therapy, letting him believe he’s a US marshal trying to solve a missing person’s case in a mental institution with evil Nazi doctors on a small island during a hurricane, when in actuality, he murdered his wife, and they are about to lobotomize him if he doesn’t just admit who he really is. Which he won’t, so they do. The end.

End of spoilers!

Me:
What? Are they serious? That’s the movie? THAT IS THE ENDING?”

Him:
“I suppose you would have liked it better if Mark Ruffalo rode up on his motorcycle and saved everyone.”

Well . . . yes, frankly.

I’m not saying every movie has to end with the Death Star getting blown up by the Rebel Alliance and Carrie Fisher giving medals to everyone.

But could Leonardo di Caprio not just have solved the mystery and shut down the evil Nazi doctors? Is that asking so much?

Happily Dennis Lehane has a new Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro book out, Moonlight Mile. I’ll definitely be reading that.

Obviously after the Mark Ruffalo incident, Inception, and Shutter Island, I felt like I needed a straight forward story, something simple. I looked to see if I had any other movies that might fit the bill. It turned out all I had was something called Harry Brown.

Harry Brown stars Michael Caine as an old age pensioner named . . . well, Harry Brown.

In case you don’t know, an old age pensioner is apparently what they call senior citizens in England. Well, they probably don’t call Queen Elizabeth or Prince Phillip that. But you get my meaning.

Harry Brown lives in a “council estate” which is basically like apartment housing for lower income people. Having once served in Northern Ireland for the British Marines, Harry’s quite lonely now, because his daughter is dead and his wife is dying “in hospital.” Harry has only one friend, Len, with whom he plays chess in a pub every day.

Len tells Harry that he’s being harassed by some teenage gang members who also live in the estate housing, and who regularly set things, such as Len’s door mat, on fire, push dog doo through his letter box, and smash other people’s car windows, just for fun.

Harry tells Len to go to the police, but Len has already done that, and they’ve done nothing, he says.

This is when Len shows Harry a military bayonet he keeps hidden in his coat. Len is going to use the bayonet for self-defense.

Note: In England it is very difficult to get a gun, as I know all too well because every time I mention guns in any of my YAs, my British editors freak out in much the same way my mom used to freak out whenever we bit our graham crackers into the shape of a gun, which we had to do because my mom is very anti-guns and so we were never allowed to have toy guns, not even water guns, in my house growing up. Of course now I understand that my mom was traumatized by guns due to a family member of hers having once suffered a near fatal gunshot wound.

But at the time we all thought it was quite unfair that she would always take away the guns that came with our GI Joes. And obviously this is why my brother grew up to be a police sergeant with a vast collection of firearms. Because as soon as you tell a kid they can’t have something, that thing becomes the only thing they want. Proof: The Fantasticks.

Anyway, Harry says, “Len! Don’t be daft! Let the police do their job!”

But Len just gets angry at this and says Harry doesn’t know what it’s like.

Except that Harry does know what it’s like because the teen punks keep him from using the underground walking passage from his housing unit to the hospital where he goes to visit his comatose wife every day.

But Harry doesn’t do anything about it, because he’s just an old man, like Len. What can one gunless old age pensioner do in the face of so many bullies with girlfriends pushing Gucci prams?

The very next day a pretty police detective (Emily Mortimer) comes to call on Harry. She tells him that she’s very sorry, but Len has been killed.

Harry is so shocked, he sinks down onto his couch, crying. Len! His only friend!

The police woman is very troubled, saying they’ll do all they can. But unfortunately these kids are out of control, and these kind of crimes are very hard to solve.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that before all this happened with Len, Harry’s wife died, and Harry didn’t get to the hospital in time because he couldn’t take the subterranean tunnel to get there because the teenage gang members were busy harassing old people in it, and also having sex. Not with the old people, with each other.

Harry says it’s just like when he fought like in Northern Ireland, only they had a cause. For these kids, being violent is just entertainment.

Uh-oh!

Harry is having a really bad time. What choice does he have, really, but to go to the pub where he and Len used to play chess, and get very, very drunk?

Of course as Harry stumbles home that night, he makes an irresistible target for thieves.

But keep in mind that even though Harry is drunk and old, he is still a decorated Marine. So it was probably not a good idea to try to rob him. Because Marines never lose their catlike reflexes and ninja warrior skills, even when they’re super old.

Harry is a little horrified afterwards by what he’s done (straight up stabbed a guy 1/4* his age with his own knife), even though it was in self-defense.

(*Thank you to everyone who wrote in to help me with my horrible math skills!)

But as he looks out his window at all the teenage louts down at the subterranean passageway, it is clear Harry is thinking very deep, thoughts, most likely not about Mark Ruffalo on his motorcycle.

When Harry learns the next day from the pretty, concerned police detective that because Len had a bayonet on him when he died, she’s not going to be able to convict the teen suspects in his murder (because they’re claiming that Len assaulted them, and they were only defending themselves), Harry realizes what he’s going to have to do.

If you’re the kind of person who liked the movie Gran Torino but kind of wished Clint had reached for more than just his matches at the end, you’ll love watching as Harry attempts to clean up his neighborhood by plunging himself into a world of drugs, porn, gun-smuggling, teenage nihilism, crazy driving, rock music, explosions, torture, and everything else you can think of (including blood spattered just about everywhere. But quite tastefully, I thought).

A few reviewers found this movie too violent for their taste, which I guess I can see, but honestly, way more people were killed in Avatar, and my 6 year old niece loved that movie. Not showing the blood doesn’t make the body count any lower.

Roger Ebert gave Harry Brown three out of four stars and opined that “it places story and character above manufactured ‘thrills’ and works better. We are all so desperately weary of CGI that replaces drama. With movies like this, humans creep back into crime stories.”

Harry Brown was so enjoyable, it may become a Thanksgiving Day staple in my house, the way other people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Only instead of saying, “Look! It’s the Snoopy float!” we’ll say, “You failed to maintain your weapon, son.” Kapow!

Now I have to go look at some more pictures of Mark Ruffalo send all those bathing suits back. Bye.

More later.

Much love,

Meg