Reed’s Bargain Bin: The Good Night

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Reed’s Bargain Bin is a recurring column where Reed Farrington tells us about a movie he bought for under $5, and whether or not he regrets the purchase.

On a recent foray to a local video store for bargain bin videos, I picked up a movie called The Good Night, written and directed by Jake Paltrow, Gwyneth’s brother. I’m not sure how obscure this movie is (Sean had heard of it and correctly named one of the stars, Martin Freeman), but it had a limited theatrical release in 2007 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Besides Freeman, it also stars Penelope Cruz, Gwyneth, Simon Pegg, and Danny DeVito. (One of the photos on the DVD cover is of Martin Freeman, but I initially thought the photo was of Ewan McGregor.) Now if you know your actors and also that I have an unusual penchant for collecting anything obscurely related to Star Trek, then you’ll have realized why I bought this movie. In case you’re puzzled, I’ll tell you why. Simon Pegg played Scotty in the recent Star Trek movie.

I used to be able to pick up relatively recent popular movies in the 2 for $5 bargain bin, but the video store wised up and introduced a 2 for $7 bargain bin for these movies. So lately, the 2 for $5 bargain bin has had Slim Pickens, I mean slim pickings. When I find only one movie I like, I usually take my chances and leave the movie until next time when hopefully no one will have purchased the movie and there’s a chance another movie would have been added that I like. You see, if you only buy one movie, the video store charges $3.99. So the pricing is meant to encourage you to buy movies in multiples of two. Normally I might not have bought The Good Night even with Simon Pegg in it, but I happened to find John Carpenter’s Masters of Horror entry Pro-Life and I didn’t want to take the chance of waiting until next time, so I picked up The Good Night to complete my multiple of two.

Okay, back to the movie. The Good Night is billed as a comedic fantasy. The movie opens with short interview segments and one of the interviewees is Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame. On the filmmaker’s commentary, Jake Paltrow opines that Cocker is probably the most brilliant of the musicians of his era. I thought that Jake unintentionally slammed Gwyneth’s hubby, Chris Martin, but perhaps Coldplay and Pulp aren’t considered contemporaries of each other as Coldplay’s success occurred after Pulp’s. The film quickly gets into the relationship between Gary (Freeman) and Dora (Paltrow). It’s obvious that the relationship is on the downside, and I found the banter realistic and funny. But since I’ve never been in a relationship, I’m only imagining that this is how couples can get on each other’s nerves. Gary’s best friend is Paul (Pegg). In his younger days, Gary was in a relatively popular band (thus the reason for the Cocker interview segments) with Paul. Paul has moved onto being a recently promoted advertising executive giving direction to Gary, who is stuck being a jingle writer for commercials. Gary’s moribund life leads to conflict with Dora, and Gary finds himself having recurring dreams about another woman, Anna (Cruz), who is seemingly imaginary. While Paul cheats on his wife, Gary’s obsession with Anna leads him to investigating lucid dreaming techniques with an expert, Mel (DeVito).

I must admit that this subject of lucid dreaming holds a certain fascination with me. Lucid dreaming is a way of trying to control your dreams by making yourself able to realize when you’re in a dream. Have you ever been dreaming and coincidentally realized that you’re in a dream? And then you try to take advantage of the situation by doing something in your dream that you would never do in real life? (On a side note, have you ever had the nightmarish temporary situation when your mind wakes up in darkness and your physical body is paralyzed? This occurs when your brain wakes up, but your body hasn’t received the signals to wake itself up, yet!) I’ve never researched lucid dreaming so I can’t verify the techniques shown in the film like looking at your hands and wall switches before going to sleep, but the movie isn’t about lucid dreaming per se. (In the director’s commentary, Jake admits that the movie shows only a superficial level of lucid dreaming.)

Gary gets into lucid dreaming so that he can hopefully prolong and enjoy his experiences with Anna without actually cheating on Dora although this is a grey area in human relations. In Gary’s initial dream meeting with Anna, Jake Paltrow cleverly has Anna communicating telepathically with Gary to convey the strange quality of a dream. As Gary has more dreams of Anna, her lips move and her voice gradually changes from garbled to intelligible. Occasionally and tellingly, Anna speaks with Gwyneth’s voice.

At first, Cruz’s role as a dream woman doesn’t seem like much of an acting stretch, but she does get more to do in the film. I thought all the acting performances were strong, and the intelligent script surely helped the actors. I enjoyed the silly humor provided during the DeVito segments. I haven’t had a chance to watch Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz yet, but Pegg’s comedic performance in this movie is rather restrained and believable in the best friend role. Since Pegg and Freeman are friends in real-life, perhaps there wasn’t much of an acting stretch for Pegg. Looking at Freeman’s extensive acting credits, I must confess that this is the first role I’ve ever seen him in. I’ve never seen the British version of The Office. I had completely forgotten about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie which I’m curious to watch someday; I guess I can look forward to Freeman’s performance as Arthur Dent.

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The beginning interview segments sort of hint at the ending, but the ending was satisfying nevertheless and not really typical of a Hollywood film, I don’t think. The movie made me think about the choices we make in life. Perhaps nothing extraordinarily profound is raised, but it’s always good to pause and remind ourselves that what we have might be pretty good after all.

This is Jake Paltrow’s motion picture directorial debut after successfully building a resume directing television, notably several episodes of NYPD Blue. The direction suited the subject matter and was appropriately unobtrusive, not drawing attention to itself. This is his first writing credit. Interestingly, for Chuck Palahniuck’s novel, Survivor, he had written a screenplay that David Fincher was set to direct; however, fate intervened with 9/11. Since the novel has an airplane hijacker involved, the project was shelved.

Along with the composed music for the film, I liked the musical song choices in the film. Because I haven’t listened to much Pulp music, the few Pulp compositions used were fresh to me. There was even a great Troggs’ song I was not familiar with, and no, the song wasn’t “Wild Thing.” And as a bit of obscure Trekkie trivia, there’s also a song by T’Pau, the band’s name having been taken from a Vulcan matriarch from the Original Series.

I can’t think of another film that I can draw comparisons with or that might give you an idea whether or not this film would appeal to you. As an example of the droll humor used by the film, Gary is seen in bed reading a Dummies’ Guide to The Middle East Conflict. I didn’t bother to check if this book actually exists, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. It’s the kind of humor that makes me smile inside. Even without the humor, I was caught up in Gary’s mid-life crisis and wondering how it would turn out. Perhaps I got greater enjoyment from the film because I could relate to the protagonist.

For The Good Night, I cannot think of anything negative to say about it. I was totally entertained. Having been stung by criticism that I don’t offer my own opinions, I wrote my opinions down before I went on-line to see what other critics had to say. Um, Rotten Tomatoes only has it at 28%. I’ve also been criticized for on purposely going against popular opinion (recently, I’m thinking of my review for Star Trek) so it’s going to appear that I’m doing that again. If you think about it, when someone disagrees with your assessment, it’s always easy for him or her to think of external factors having nothing to do with the film as excuses for your contrary opinion. For this film, I think the major criticism is that it seems dour, but that’s not necessarily a negative in my book. As expected, there are some reviews that echo my praise.

Before I offer my rating for The Good Night, let me explain the bargain bin rating scale. The lowest rating is $0.00, indicating that no amount of money is worth paying for this movie. Although I don’t believe in charity, I’ll pretty much award a few cents for effort alone since I know how difficult it is to get a movie made, so I’ll probably never give a film a $0.00 rating. The highest rating is $5.00, which is the highest amount I’ll ever pay for a DVD of a film. Note that when two films get the same bargain bin rating, this does not necessarily indicate that I would rate the films of being equal quality. I’ll also indicate the actual amount I paid for the film to help you know how much you can expect to pay for the film. For those with a more liberal budget, you can ignore the actual amount I paid. Ha ha. (I must give credit to Sean for coming up with the idea for this scale.)

Amount I Paid: $2.50.
Bargain Bin Rating: $5.00.

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  • dan

    This is a great idea for a recurring feature, Reed, and I can’t wait for the next posts. The rating scale is genius, too. Very well done. Can we expect every entry to have some degree of separation to Star Trek? That would be genius too.

    “But since I’ve never been in a relationship, I’m only imagining that this is how couples can get on each other’s nerves.”

    I appreciate the honesty in your writing, Reed, but this statement makes me sad buddy. At least you have your animatronic stuffed monkey.

  • Great feature idea. I used to be a compulsive bargain DVD shopper. There was a huge bin of movies at the grocery store of all places, and everything was under $10. A lot were $3.99, occasionally I came across one for $1.99. I’d buy three or four every time I bought groceries, but then I’d come home and only be disappointed by them, so I stopped cold turkey and I’ve been slowly downsizing my DVD collection ever since. Hope you have better luck than me Reed!

  • a long time ago I got a bargain bin movie called “The Gods Must Be Crazy” my life was changed forever!

  • scoville

    It was a surprising movie for me as well. It wasn’t anything amazing, but was a much stronger and more entertaining movie than expected.

    It’s currently available through Netflix’s streaming service.

  • Paul Andrews

    Great idea for a feature ! Hopefully we’ll see some diamonds in the rough.
    Never heard of this film; I’ll have to check it out.

  • Sweet feature, interesting read, keep it up, looking forward to next time :-)

  • Thx everyone for reading. I can’t take any credit at all for the idea behind this feature. I didn’t have a Killer Import to review, so it was either Sean or Jay who suggested this.

    dan, when you quoted that sentence from my review, I realized my sentence was grammatically incorrect. I made it sound like a couple getting on another couple’s nerves, but it looks like you understood the gist of what I meant to say.

    Ashley, I think I subconsciously rationalize my bargain bin choices so that I won’t feel bad when a movie “sucks.” For example, if there’s a Star Trek actor in the movie, then the movie can become part of my collection regardless of its quality.

    rus in chicago, had you heard anything about “The Gods Must Be Crazy” before purchasing it? I saw that movie in theatres while it was being hyped. Yeah, it was fun.

  • Oh, scoville, what was it about “The Good Night” that made you take a chance on watching it? I’m just curious.

  • Even after reading your review on it Reed, I had still forgotten that I’ve seen this film before. Only the trailer brought it back, or what I remembered of it. This is some awful, boring crap IMO – designed to sell using a bunch of pretty faces and names on the box to those that don’t know better. Completely forgettable garbage.

    But the review was well written, and I love the concept and your grading scale. Huzzah!