Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

2013, 126 min. PG-13 for some disturbing images and (oh, for God’s sake) smoking
IMDB says... A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

The 73rd Virgin says... If you’ve reached an age where you say to yourself, “gosh, it’s been too long since I’ve seen an animated movie about a heroically good-hearted, soft-spoken, near-sighted, Japanese engineering genius who visits Nazi Germany and then designs the fighter plane that terrorizes Asia and the Pacific from 1940 to 1945, combined with a touching gentle love story about his marriage to a consumptive young woman, with dream sequences involving Italian Count Caproni – and lots of Schubert ”, then here you go. It is enormously complex, thoughtful, and shaded.

A little boy with thick glasses wakes up on a sunny morning and climbs up a hill to a little fanciful airplane powered by tea pots and takes off into the blue sky. He observes above massive fanciful aircraft powered by oars, out of which drop grey lumpen monsters. I’m thinking, “We’ve seen ALL this before Hayao – got anything new?”

As it happens, yes. I suspect the (forever getting ready to retire) animation director Hayao Miyazaki is winking at us, and saying, “now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…”.

We will soon be following the very loose approximation of the life of master aeronautical engineer, Jirô Horikoshi, based on Miyazaki’s manga. This is not biography.

Like all Miyazakis, it’s filled with detailed side-of-the-frame visual grace notes that immerse you more than most computer animation could ever hope to. The classical music playing on the Victrola is next to an empty record sleeve that confirms Beethoven; the record has a red Columbia Records logo. While rescuing a young quake victim with a broken leg, Jiro splints the leg with, what else? A slide rule – with numbers lovingly detailed into place. In an Ozu-like sequence, the young over-worked husband falls asleep in his suit and tie next to his wife’s “floor” bed. The frame is still for a very long time; then she slowly shifts her comforter over both of them.

Note that this comes out under Disney’s Touchstone imprint with no mention of Disney anywhere on the posters. Maybe it’s the 1923 Tokyo earthquake sequence with thousands of refugees in the foreground and the huge fires that left 100,000 dead in the background. Maybe it’s the matter-of-fact description of Japan’s interwar militarism and off-hand references to their utterly bestial behavior in Manchuria and China. Maybe it’s the girl from the cover art standing on a classic Miyazaki wind-blown sunny hillside suddenly kneeling down and coughing up bright red blood through her hands. Maybe it’s the characters’ constant smoking. The movie has many such moments that should be shocking to our sensibilities but are instead sedate, and not even judgmental.

There is an extended scene devoted to the aerodynamic improvement of flush-mounted rivets.

Dark foreshadows abound. The same fires towering over Tokyo after the 1923 quake, re-appear near the end with US bombers bringing the flame. Along the way, Jiro will fall in with a German pacifist who warmly warns him, “Germany will blow up; Japan will blow up.” For this, Jiro now has “the Thought Police” on his tail and has to finish his groundbreaking war-death machine while in hiding.

In the great one’s canon, I would rate this a little below Princess Mononoke (adult), and My Neighbor Totoro (children), but it's still beautifully difficult.

It opens with an unfamiliar (to me) quote in French from poet Paul Valéry, “The wind is rising...we must attempt to live.” For Miyazaki and his gentle hero, mission accomplished.
The pointless, insufficient trailer is below. 

Blathering on and quoting myself from about a year ago, below:
My first experience with Miyazaki was the children’s masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro from 1988 – before John Lasseter of Pixar and Disney began to make such a fuss over him. Late in his career he was taken under Lassater’s fawning, gushing wing and is now a household name.

I’ve almost become blasé about the beauty of the Ghibli/Miyazaki movies. In total, my children and I must have watched various chapters of the entire canon 150 times. I’m not kidding. There is nothing to compare them to.

Those made for small children involved basically happy stories with only modest crises. And in almost all of them, both parents began the movie alive and stayed that way, too. How these came under the parenticidal Disney logo remains a mystery.

Those made for older children and adults featured fantasy stories, but with complicated flexible antagonists, conflicted heroines, and sometimes quite violent, epic, and doom-clouded storylines, coupled with endings that were still basically happy but left heroines in unresolved conditions, perched between childhood freedoms and adult burdens. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke, have apocalyptically violent climaxes, and Castle in the Sky features a mushroom cloud. Disney productions never came close to these battlefields strewn with bodies of fantastical creatures. Happy endings aside, these were high drama mixed with visuals that still have no equal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fearless (1993) now on Blu-ray

Didn't do my homework. Fearless came out on Blu-ray sometime in 2013, apparently in wide screen, unlike the 4:3 on the DVD. Although I haven't watched it yet, I did order it. $19.79 at Amazon.

Go forth and purchase.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fearless (1993)

1993. 122 min. Rated R – language, no nudity, gore-free airliner crash, one brief charred body

IMDB says....A man's personality is dramatically changed after surviving a major airline crash.

The 73rd Virgin says...I’ve been fearful of this review and have been skirting around it through these last 3 years. Fearless is running at about 7.2 on IMDB and about 86% percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It is not flawless, but no movie has had a greater effect on me on first viewing than this one. It is almost forgotten by the public. The DVD is in decrepit 4:3 aspect ratio with no sign of being rescued by The Criterion Collection, lo, these 20 years since its release.
Screenwriter Rafael Yglesias adapted his own novel, which I’ve never read. It’s the only movie I can think of that effectively describes post-traumatic stress disorder in a non-military setting.

As the movie begins, wealthy San Francisco architect Max Klein walks out of a smoky cornfield near Bakersfield, California, carrying a baby and leading a child by the hand. Jeff Bridges already appears beatific, and in denial, about what he just survived. Three sorrowing angels in the form of migrant workers pray at the roadside, and then director Peter Weir goes to an overhead shot of the remains of a commuter airliner scorched into the cornfield.

Already this is unique. It is not nighttime; it is not raining; there is no CGI. It is a bright sunny day in Bakersfield and many people have died, but Bridges and a few others have survived. Weir casually uses whatever resources are to hand to do a decent job of re-creating a real crash site. The secondary actors are not all that good, the script even contains an “it’s gonna blow” line just before part of the fuselage catches fire and we see Rosie Perez as Carla dragged away screaming from the fire knowing that her 2 year-old is dying in it.

Klein hands the infant he’s carrying to its mother, strolls over to a taxi and asks to be taken to the nearest hotel. And so begins his journey through PTSD. At the hotel he observes his Christ-like wound in the side, then hops in a rental car, tears down the highway towards Los Angeles, stops to see an old girlfriend, eats strawberries to which he is supposed to be deathly allergic, and holes up until disinterested police find him. When he returns to his ecstatic wife Laura, luminous Isabella Rossellini, the scene is clouded with the simple question “why didn’t you call”?

What follows is a series of scenes in which Max’s isolation grows. He is capable of beatific kindness to his business partner’s widow, to the prostrate young mother Carla whom we met earlier, etc. But he insults his family, his lawyers, slaps an airline psychiatrist, and begins engaging in near suicidal behavior.

Bridges has recently begun to get his due as the great American actor. He is crippled by his handsomeness. He’s not even an imploding Italian and has never played a gangster.
David N. Meyer on Bridges – “He fearlessly displays his character’s worst aspects: arrogance, insensitivity, panic, and selfishness.”

In time he will only be intimate (non-physically) with Carla, who is his polar opposite. He, either atheist or perhaps strayed Catholic or non-observant Jew and she, devoutly Catholic, form their own little coping club, and in this fine scene he delivers one of my favorite movie lines, “I’m filled with guilt and shame, how is that old world?”

Another fine if slightly stilted scene provides the nuts and bolts of critical incident stress debriefing as all of the survivors, minus Max, gather to tell their stories. Whenever I hear a business manager pissing and moaning about war stories in a meeting, I think of this scene. This is how you help people get past something. The stories have to be told.

Here, as Max locks eyes with his partner's widow, Weir displays his trademark uncanny ability to show how people intuit, and how they wordlessly communicate volumes. Every Weir movie features it.

Despite the tragedy, most of the scenes are perversely set in bright and beautiful California where it never even rains. An exception; where Max and Carla sit in a vehicle in the blue gray night-the color of ghosts-and discuss things matter of factly, “he was decapitated. - Oh”, and we learn of their numbness.

But this can’t go on. Carla remains guilt-stricken at her inability to hold onto her squirming baby when the plane hit the ground at 300 miles per hour, so Max decides to give her an out and to teach her a lesson in the futility of physics by slamming his Volvo into a brick wall while she tries to hold onto a toolbox. This isn’t the end so I’m not giving much away.

A few Netflix-style reviewers have complained about Rossellini’s performance or that she lacks chemistry with Bridges. I thought that was the point. She is a formidable woman whose beloved has turned into a psychotic child. Her carefully managed life is unraveling through no fault of her own, and she’s determined to fix it. In a notably believable scene Mrs. Klein and Carla finally meet. Rosie Perez was nominated for best supporting actress, deservedly. But I think Rossellini is great, too.

I admit there are a lot of scenes with people just interacting. I can only guess that Weir knew what he had up his sleeve: just about the most powerful closing scene ever made.

Exasperated, Laura finally allows herself into her husband’s office and flips through his artwork and designs from the past few months and discovers that they have become obsessively fixated on dark pits and tunnels of light, including-very significantly-Doré’s painting of Dante and his redeemer and bringer of blessings, Beatrice, as they watch the heavenly spiral of Angels from Dante’s Paradiso.

When Max returns home from the hospital he is ready to be "saved" but they are interrupted by their lawyer (Tom Hulce) arriving with a celebratory fruit basket - including the dread strawberries.

Cue the music. And brace – brace – brace for impact.

As Max willfully induces anaphylaxis, and as his Beatrice scrambles to keep him alive, he finally flashes back through his entire memory of the plane crash. In sunlight, with no gore, with straightforward special effects, and limited sound, Weir, editor William Anderson, and Henryk Gorecki’s wrenching “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, gently and respectfully guide us through the disintegration of an airliner.

I can think of no other movie scene to compare. I cut this clip short, obviously.

David N. Meyer in his, “100 Best Films To Rent You’ve Never Heard Of”, states it more succinctly, “A lesser director would have gone for big explosions and rapid-fire editing. Weir keeps it simple, quiet, and terrible. By presenting the crash with religious awe, he honors rather than exploits…”

Along with all that we are weighted with symbols that all of the preceding scenes have given this story the strength to bear: the fall of Man; Woman as redeemer and life giver; and the agony and terror of birth as Max’s swollen red squalling face fills the screen.

As with Kurosawa's Ikiru, there have been times in my life when I just couldn't watch this movie. A family member with cancer, a death, 9-11, etc. - no I have not seen United 93. But Weir's beautiful vision, great acting and an artful script bring me back every few years. Forever in my top 5 or so.
P.S. Someone has uploaded the final scenes on to YouTube in their entirety. I just CAN’T do that, so my clip is cut short. I hope you see the entire movie, but if you just won’t, it’s out there for the searching.

P.P.S. The story goes that this movie was receiving high critical praise, but Schindler’s List came out within a month and swept away all competition, leaving this masterpiece – my word – forgotten. And that Weir was so stung by the relative failure that it took him 5 years to find another movie to direct (The Truman Show). The only reference I can find on the web sort of supports that.
Partly because of the commercial failure of ''Fearless,'' a drama starring Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez about people's varying reactions to a plane crash, Mr. Weir took a break from directing.
''It sort of exhausted me emotionally,'' he said. ''Actually the best of the reviews turned people away in droves, because they would essentially warn them not to see it and say: 'It's so effective, don't go. You're on that plane.' ''

P.P.P.S. If I had possessed any real knowledge of classical music, then the use of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs during the climax might not have caught me so off guard. One of the most recognized pieces of classical music in the past 50 years reportedly sold over 1 million copies and therefore would’ve been a natural choice for the soundtrack. I just didn’t know it. Known to the viewer or not, this music - and the lyrics in Polish - will take you apart.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Silver Linings Playbook

2012 122 min. R - Language, brief nudity - not Jennifer Lawrence, endless vapidity.
IMDB says... After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

The 73rd Virgin says... I thought I should review a rom-com for Valentines Day. I’m drinking coffee at 1:45 a.m. trying to finish Silver Linings Playbook which is running 92% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. The only good thing is the acting. The script is just awful.

It is said that none of us ever really leave high school. Now I have proof, in that this big steaming turd was nominated for Best Picture. And Best Script Adaptation.

Screenwriter-director David O. Russell is supposed to be a genius, or something. I liked Three Kings and The Fighter well enough, and my friends all tell me that American Hustle is good.

But THIS is pure critic-bait wankery. A self-branded romantic comedy that displays the elevated taste of very little comedy and limited romance. And long scenes where family members stand in a room and chew on each other with recrimination like a Bergman film – absent any of his insight - not to mention style.

Pat Solitano has been in an institution for 8 months for assaulting the “tenured” history teacher who has been schtupping his wife. Do east coast high schools have tenured history teachers? Who knew?

Anyway, Pat is being released into his parents’ custody and refusing to take his meds, until he does and then gets magically a lot better without any of the side effects that he’s been complaining about. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of bi-polar disorder, but Bradley Cooper as the afflicted Pat is the only convincing character in the movie. Until he’s not.

Here’s the large print script’s way of showing you that he’s not as valued as his older brother.

And I didn’t believe a word of the dialogue. Nor did I believe that a psychiatrist, who knows Pat has a history of violence when he hears the song, "My Cherie Amour", decides to magically make it play the minute Pat signs in for his appointment, even though there’s a waiting room full of innocent bystanders.

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany is fine but her motivations are incomprehensible. She likes the dirty, slutty side of herself so much that she will fall for the first person who does her a single favor, and then set up in a monogamous relationship with him. So help me understand what her motivations are again? Sure, if you get involved with an unstable widow who looks like Jennifer Lawrence, you’re going to forgive a lot for the pleasure of her company, but what is her reason for tolerating him?

And so many plot conveniences and contrivances.

Early on, we meet the local beat cop who tells us we will be seeing a lot of him.

No shit. Hold that thought.

When the Solitanos have a 3 a.m. fight, all the lights in the neighborhood come on and, lo and behold, Officer Keogh is there IN SECONDS, in uniform and clean-shaven. No partner. Best Script Nominee.

Then when Tiffany and Pat have a tiff outside of a theater, (and Pat’s trigger song is magically playing again – how cute!) look who shows up again IN SECONDS. No partner. Best Script Nominee.

And then when Pat’s asylum buddy (Chris Tucker) escapes and is found watching football at Pat’s house, who does the State of Maryland send to a house in Philadelphia (PA) to pick up a convicted felon? Why, it’s Officer Keogh again. No partner. Best Script Nominee. Oh, and great acting there, Bob (also nominated). I feel your pain.

And the Philadelphia, (PA) cop is going to drive the inmate back to the Baltimore, (MD) asylum. For God’s sake. Best Script Nominee.

Chris Tucker will mystifyingly show up later – maybe after his third escape from the asylum - as the shortest short-hand script device ever devised: the soul brother who teaches the white kids how to dance. At least he’s funny enough to teach them poorly. Is Russell clever enough to have inserted parody here? I don’t think so.

And then there is the silliest and sorriest contrived conflict I’ve seen in a while. Pat can’t practice for the big dance competition with Tiffany because he promised his dad he would go to a Philadelphia Eagles game. Why? Because he’s good luck for the Eagles, and Dad is the first bookie in history to bet only on his home team. I’ve never met a bookie like that. Best Script Nominee.

All this followed by an absolutely interminable living room scene, with about 15 characters shouting at each other, in which we will eventually learn that Dad’s financing for his new restaurant will be won or lost on a bet regarding the Eagles vs someone, AND, whether or not Pat and Tiffany can score high enough at the big dance-off. Two side characters are inserted into the scene for no other reason than to carefully explain to the audience the inexplicable. Best Script Nominee.

If it occurred to you to wonder how Tiffany kept magically ambushing Pat while he’s running early in the movie, well, it occurred to Russell to wonder the same thing, so near the end he tells us that Pat’s mother has been calling Tiffany to let her know when Pat will be running by. So the mother of a bi-polaroid with a history of violent jealousy is calling the unstable sex addict widow in hopes that they will hit it off. Zany rom-com. Best Script Nominee.

Finally, they have the big dance-off (Pat’s psychiatrist violates professional ethics by showing up). And Officer Keogh is there too. I give up. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

It has one funny scene – thanks to Lawrence. Spoiler alert.

Oh, and did I mention it’s Christmas and Pat will run through the street to finally catch his true love? Just like Bridget Jones’s Diary. There. Now it’s a romantic comedy Best Picture Nominee.

America, we should not go around confusing insultingly contrived drama, with lots of f-bombs, with romantic comedy. It makes the rest of the world think we’re stupid.

I think I’ll go watch Real Housewives so I can remember what a good script sounds like.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Owning Mahowny

2003. 104 min. Rated R – brief nudity, adult content, mild language
IMDB says... A bank manager with: (a) a gambling problem and (b) access to a multimillion dollar account gets into a messy situation. Based on the story of the largest one-man bank fraud in Canadian history.

The 73rd Virgin says...This isn’t one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most notable performances, mostly because he is playing a real-life near savant banker-gambler-schlump-nerd. But it shows his skill with zero histrionics. In other hands, it would be a caper movie a la Catch Me If You Can, but director Richard Kwietniowski, the moody neo-jazz-ish score, and Hoffman make it something different.

Dan Mahowny is a chubby, disheveled, inward and downward-looking - but up and coming - young bank executive. He drives a smoking wreck of a car and wears cheap suits to the bewilderment of his co-workers. He also flies from Toronto to Atlantic City every weekend, gambles incessantly on any sport available, and fends off the slightly threatening bookie to whom he owes at least $10,000. By crossing the border, there is little way for Canadian banking authorities to make the connection.

Then things start to get bad.

Mahowny is promoted to a position that will allow him to create fake entities, inflate their credit worthiness, loan them money, etc. All while seeking the one big day at the casinos. The viewer can appreciate how this decent, even kind man can make the one false move that will enable his bad habit to become an all-consuming self-destruction.

Hoffman develops the hook of holding his head and/or slippy 80s glasses in a way that projects deep concentration and deep self-hatred in equal measure. He is also mic’d or recorded in such a way as to pick up every nervous breath.

But in this scene he smoothly deflects a bank auditor like a pro, which he is.

Minnie Driver, in the unfortunate hair and glasses of the time, is memorable as his utterly devoted girl-friend, Belinda, who – dim as she is – can still see his problem from a mile away.

John Hurt plays casino manager, Victor Foss, with as much high viscosity oil as the role can tolerate. If you only know Hurt for his wounded roles, his garish rapacity is refreshing.

The script brings admirable detail to the casino’s patented process of landing a whale. When he travels with his uninformed friend, and takes out $100,000 in chips, the earth moves. Only this whale doesn’t want prostitutes, fancy European meals, or a big room with three fireplaces. He wants to gamble, and he would like a plate of ribs, no sauce, and a coke. We get to see how, when he’s winning, management will do ANYTHING to keep him playing, and when he’s losing, the genuine affection they have for this guy and his foibles. The mob has been corporatized, but it still knows the levers and fulcrums of addictive behavior. They feel kinda bad about crushing people, but it’s what they do.

Listen to Hoffman’s voice at the end of the clip.

And it’s all pretty closely based on a true story.

Second-line supporting roles, script and acting are workmanlike but not altogether believable. We get a laugh out of the Toronto police obsessing over how this guy moving so much money around MUST be a drug dealer.

This is no masterpiece and it wasn’t a hit obviously, but it is engrossing in its detail and occasional humor. Other Hoffman roles can be set up as monuments to the actor, but this final scene with a shrink provides perhaps a fake-but-accurate epitaph.

I am personally very sad. RIP.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Movies Recap

Too busy/lazy for new reviews so here are all the Christmas movies I've reviewed in the past. Three of the four are uniquely funny and the Nativity Story (Amazon Instant View) is 73rd Virgin-certified to offend none but the touchiest ant-Christian and none but the touchiest biblical absolutist. Christmas In the Clouds (DVD purchase only) is a little weak actually, but it's heart is in the right place. Rare Exports (on Netflix Instant View, and Amazon Instant Video) is about as inventive as it gets: a comedy in which a vengeful Santa buried in ice in northern Finland is thawed out by aged evil elves, and fought off by a little boy in hockey pads and fiberglass insulation taped across his butt. Indescribable.

I back down to no one in my opinion that Tokyo Godfathers (on Netflix Instant View!!!)  is the greatest Christmas movie ever. Based slightly on the old western Three Godfathers, this anime has three homeless persons adventuring around Tokyo on Christmas Eve to save a stripper's abandoned baby. It sounds maudlin, but it's wickedly funny and unpredictable.

Tokyo Godfathers

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

The Nativity Story

Christmas In the Clouds

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2013. 146 min. PG-13.
IMDB says... Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.

The 73rd Virgin says... I haven’t read the books and I saw the first of the franchise on DVD, but I was reasonably impressed. In the endless chain of futuristic dystopian fantasies stretching all the way back to 1927’s Metropolis, this movie falls in the upper 25th percentile. I don’t know what Suzanne Collins had in mind politically, but her vision of a fabulously wealthy and power-centric Capitol surrounded by impoverished subject districts seems more realistic with every lobbyist that moves to  DC, and with every small town SWAT team newly decked out in army surplus body armor and M-4s.

I stayed interested and entertained, but those who are comparing this to The Empire Strikes Back need to go re-watch that movie. Still, this was great fun with lots of enjoyable acting, action, flawless effects and convincing evocation of overwhelming glitz and glamour in the Capitol.

To recap: Katniss and her boyfriend #2, Peeta, were the first contestants (or “tributes”) in 74 years to survive The Hunger Games as a team. A clever plot device forced them to declare their rather ambivalent love for each other and win over the public. Their newfound status as the empire’s favorite sweethearts has afforded them some celebrity-based political clout, which immediately puts them in the sights of President Snow. The early focus on Katniss’s conflicted feelings about her status as a celebrity and victor are all necessary, but they take quite a while, as does her sorting out her childhood sweetheart from her public-pleasing official boyfriend.

As this begins – and admirably, the movie just begins; no credits, no backstory – the decision is made to bring surviving victors out of luxurious retirement and force them to compete again in the 75th Hunger Games. Killing all but one of the victors will presumably nip any nascent cults of personality in the bud.

But enough about what you already know. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is of course very good. However glamorous her off-screen image, those apple cheeks and little nose will always make her convincing as down-to-earth. Her two boyfriends and their interchangeable hairstyles seem pallid although Peeta is always there for her in the trenches. There are lots of old actors who could play President Snow. Bearded Donald Sutherland seems rather too blatantly malevolent and maybe unpolished when the character would be more effective with more charm. Ralph Fiennes would’ve been a good choice.

Stanley Tucci is essential as the toastmaster general of celebrity death culture, Caesar Flickerman, all over-bleached teeth and swirling hair, but Lenny Kravitz as fashion designer Cinna appears to be sleepwalking. Jenna Malone and Jeffrey Wright are very effective as smart victors returned to the game.

Finally, one does not introduce Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new game designer Plutarch Heavensbee without a good reason. As soon as you bring an actor this major into the mix, you know that he will be a significant part from this point forward, which preemptively robs the story of some surprise. Also, either intentionally by production design or because Hoffman didn’t feel like wearing a lot of makeup, his character lacks celebrity zing in a role that seems to call for it. You won’t find a bigger fan, but Hoffman may have phoned this one in.

At 146 minutes, even with very impressive action sequences and special-effects, the ending feels rushed, with boyfriend number one displaying a slight scratch on his face beneath his still perfect hair to exemplify the destruction of an entire district. It doesn’t seem to carry the weight of tragedy. It’s as if Princess Leia witnessed the destruction of the planet Alderaan and just got kind of mad. The fact that the last book of this trilogy will be covered in two movies does not bode well for efficient storytelling.  But for now, great fun.
The episode ends with a close-up on Katniss’s suddenly determined and empowered eyes. As such, it ends right about where 1975’s Rollerball ended and, upon reflection; I realized that so far this franchise has covered almost exactly the same ground. At much greater length. I’m sure I’m not the first to notice.

Whereas Rollerball envisioned a future run by regional corporations with a fatality-strewn version of roller derby as a means of keeping the population be-numbed, distracted, and focused almost entirely on “the team”, The Hunger Games offers the slaughter of individuals and the impermanence and distrust of alliances as an ongoing message of submission. Both explore the false and corrosive pre-packaged celebrity culture very effectively.

....and the trailers.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Education

2009. 100 min. PG-13 – sexual situations, no nudity, very little language.
IMDB says... A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London, and how her life changes with the arrival of a playboy nearly twice her age.

The 73rd Virgin says... Some mild spoilers below.

Great acting in service of a coming-of-age story that chickens out at the end.

Carey Mulligan is engaging and precise in her brilliant depiction of a whip-smart and precocious 20 year-old. Unfortunately her character – Jenny - is supposed to be 16. It is no secret that 16 year-olds can be lured into relationships with older men, and it is even believable that her striving parents would allow such a relationship to occur if they thought it would get their daughter ahead, but Mulligan’s dialog is so savvy, so mature, so devoid of stumbling innocence that my eyes just kept rolling. She’s not a 16 year-old imitating maturity – she’s just a flat out mature virgin with a school girl haircut and no makeup.

What you most need to know about the older man, David Goldman, is that he’s played by American Peter Saarsgard (with a pretty good accent). There can’t be many actors who could play a part so brazenly hazardous but still seem so believably sweet, soft-spoken, thoughtful, etc., with no hint or shadowing of menace. Director Lone Sherfig probably deserves credit for this as well. David uses his Jewishness as a way to disarm any early sufferers of WASP-guilt who might be suspicious that his motives are less than noble. Otherwise, the script avoids any short-hand Jew clichés.

Even more great acting comes from a small slice of BBC royalty in Emma Thompson’s cameo as Jenny’s school mistress, elegant Olivia Williams frumped up as a spinster teacher, Dominic Cooper as David’s more matter-of-fact sidekick, and especially Rosamund Pike as his girlfriend. Watch the interaction of the four main characters and how perfectly Pike’s remarkably expressive eyes, and the direction and editing, show her character’s insecurity in the presence of this schooled and worldly girl.

David’s weaknesses as a man are only revealed slowly. In this fine scene we get our first glimmer of his insecurities as his buddy puts very mild moves on Jenny, featuring the undervalued eternal hep-cat Mel Torme on the soundtrack.

In the end Jenny’s attraction to David is more about her boredom and exasperation with middle-class suburban England, and her parents, than it is about a deep if immature love.

...well that’s how life is in most socialist utopias chicky. The criminals are the only bold and interesting people left.

As her disappointments mount, she is rather more upset about the loss of life opportunities than the wreckage of her first love.

I’m glad to find one story of teenaged missteps that doesn’t involve instant pregnancy. Even so, the price of Jenny’s disregard for her teachers, her gender, and her capacity for extraordinary achievement is only briefly paid – and then almost magically wiped away while resorting to that hoariest of script clichés – the musical montage.

At the closing voiceover (yep) she offers that she goes back to dating “boys…and they really were boys”. The odd moral calculus of the movie is that a thirtyish small time crook and operator who: is attracted to teen-aged girls; is so insecure that he offers marriage at the first threat; has premature ejaculation issues; uses baby talk, is still the worldly “man”, while the polite, nervous, anxiously loving young college men are the “boys”. Only modern-day feminism could squeeze that baby out.

See it for the acting and the music but be prepared for a letdown.