Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Reader

AROOOOOOGGA my bad movie alarm just went off! It was The Reader that set it off!! If I were to tell you that there was a movie starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes that was an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, you would be forgiven for your ignorance in assuming that maybe it would be a good or at least watchable film. Don't feel shamed, we all make mistakes. Let's start at the beginning.

Act one: Hanna, a.k.a. Kate Winslet, is an illiterate former Nazi prison guard living in West Germany in 1958 (now, I make no claims to be a literacy scholar, but I doubt many WWII officers were fucking illiterate), where she encounters a strapping teenage lad called Michael. She devirginizes the droopy-eyed youth and proceeds to fuck him a whole lot in exchange for him reading to her. Huh. Okay, sure, whatever. This part of the movie will probably at least keep you awake because Kate Winslet doesn't really wear any clothes for the first twenty minutes or so.

Act two: Five years later, Michael is a law student and accompanies his class to observe a trial, which, wouldn't you goddamn know it, turns out to be that of Kate Winslet, whose war crimes have finally caught up to her. This act is sort of like the first act except instead of being thirty minutes it's over an hour, and instead of sex there's a trial, and instead of reading to her Michael watches the trial, and instead of being awake the audience is asleep. This act is where the movie makes crystal clear to the Academy us that it's about the Holocaust - HEAR THAT, ACADEMY AUDIENCE? THE HOLOCAUST.

Act three: Over the next thirty or so years, Michael (now an adult played by Ralph Fiennes) communes with Hanna (now serving a life sentence in prison) by recording books on tape and mailing them to her so she can listen to him read like they did in 1958. Shoot me in the head now, please. This act contains the single densest collection of touching piano strings swelling up during emotional conversations that I've ever seen in one film. I couldn't fucking believe it.

The Reader is mawkish, cloying melodrama it its absolute nadir, manipulatively trying to pummel tears out any unwitting audience member while simultaneously debasing itself for the Academy's pleasure. It's so sappy you could pour it on your pancakes, it's so soapy you could bathe with it, and it's just about the closest I've ever come to inadvertently suiciding by rolling my eyes so hard they explode out the top of my skull.

But someone at the Academy must have gotten wind that this movie is about the Holocaust, so of course, it must be a Masterpiece. Best Picture and Best Director nominations, here we come! The Academy, reliable as the rotation of the earth, as the sun setting in the west. Even the fucking critical response was tepid, and when the critics can see through hamfisted melodrama, you know it's no good. But no, nominate The Wrestler? Why, that's too indie! Nominate The Dark Knight? Why, that's too mainstream! The Holocaust drama it is.

Here's my new dream: I want to make a dumb-as-nails action movie, think Transporter 2 or Death Race. A badass hero beats up generic Eurotrash villains in a series of kung fu battles and car chases with no plot or decent dialogue. Then, right at the end of the movie, the hero turns to the camera and clearly says, "the Holocaust." BOOM, smash cut to end credits. I'm 98.5% sure that this movie would get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Basically, what I'm getting at is that The Reader can gargle my spunk.

1 Star out of 5

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