Movies can be very educational, especially if you look beyond the obvious marketing messages that are used to sell them. This past Friday, for example, James Gray's romantic drama Two Lovers was sold as "the movie where you can see what Joaquin Phoenix looks like without a bushy beard and a Grizzly Adams haircut" -- that's why he appeared on David Letterman, right? Tom Tykwer's The International was advertised as a "the movie where you can learn what the banks are really doing with your money." But both of these advertising campaigns obscured the educational possibilities of the films.
Two Lovers. This quiet character study follows the emotionally-wounded Joaquin Phoenix and his relationships with the beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow and the beautiful Vinessa Shaw. Single folks might be surprised at Phoenix's incredibly successful pickup technique. What I learned: He does nothing. Abso-frickin'-lutely nothing. His parents invite Shaw and her parents to dinner, and then she confesses to an interest in him. (Bear in mind that he attempted suicide, like, an hour before.) Shortly thereafter, he meets Paltrow, a new neighbor, in the hallway outside his parents' apartment. Whammo! He's juggling two relationships.
The International. The intended lesson to be learned from Tom Tykwer's tepid thriller is that bank debt is evil and makes CEOs do wicked things. (And here I thought it was simple greed and ignorance.) What I learned: Museums are dangerous. Stay out of the Guggenheim! That place is a shooting gallery. If you carry that thought through to its logical conclusion, then what the movie is really saying is that art and culture aren't good for you. Which ties in to its theme that corporations have taken over the world and there's nothing you can do about it. Unless you're Clive Owen with a three-day beard.