Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Intouchables

A French movie about a quadriplegiac who hires a thuggish black dude to take care of him. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, if you encapsulated this film, I would rank it just slightly below their new Marie Antoinette film (Farewell, My Queen) on films I wouldn't want to see.

And  yet, this is a delight.

Quadriplegia wouldn't seem like a great topic for movies but it has always treated me pretty well. Murderball, The Sea Inside are two of the best movies of their respective years. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a critical success, and was a very well done film, though it reeked of Boomer sensibilities.

This isn't quite Murderball but it has the same kind of insouciance.

Francois Cluzet (last seen by me in the noir Tell No One) plays the wealthy wheelchair-bound man who, after interviewing caretakers in a long string of compassionate weenies, hires a thuggish ghetto criminal who was just pretending to interview so he could get his "benefit".

This movie is about the friendship that forms between the two of them, and what's remarkable is how many ways this story could go wrong and not only does this film never strike a false note, it glides easily through the story as if there weren't any ways to go wrong.

This might be because it's inspired by a true story.

Behind the buddy story is the dual tales of redemption. Driss (Omar Sy) is a lowlife and thief whose own mother (er, stepmother? adoptive mother? I couldn't figure it out) kicks him out of the project apartment he lives in with his innumerable siblings. On his interview with Philippe (Cluzet) he steals a Fabergé egg.

Philippe is understandably suicidal, though as we find out, it was this tendency that put him in the wheelchair. And what's interesting is that it's not Driss's "keepin' it real" attitude that reaches him, it's Driss' complete inability to comprehend and empathize with Philippe's disability.

He doesn't load Philippe into the handicap-accessible hybrid minivan-like thing, he throws the wheelchair in the back of the Maserati (or whatever) and Philippe in the passenger seat, and screams around Paris at unsafe speeds.

He's squeamish about cleaning Philippe off, and he's interested in Philippe's potential for enjoying physical relationships. He has nothing much to lose, really, so he never has the deference toward this very wealthy man that everyone else around him does.

There's a little bit of the "culture clash" stuff, where Driss is mocking the modern art and classical music that Philippe enjoys, and Driss brings in a lot of '70s disco to liven up the soundtrack, but this is done without condescension—in both directions. In other words, the movie offers art high and low for what it's worth, without any apparent judgment.

There is a great bit with Driss deciding he can paint modern art and Philippe trying to sell it for an outrageous price. And a running story of Driss trying to seduce Philippe's haughty assistant (the haughty hottie Audrey Fleurot). But as a whole it doesn't engage in class warfare.

That's kind of remarkable, really.

This movie features love, lust, friendship, loss and success. It reminds of that quote attributed to Mae West, W.C. Fields and others: "I've been poor and I've been rich. Rich is better." At the same time, it can't help but show how money isn't everything.

In the end, you get some pics and data on the real people who these characters represent, which is a nice touch.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

OK, I loved this movie about the little girl growing up in "The Bathtub", a fictional island off the southern coast of Louisiana which is hit by a storm that puts it underwater. Moonrise Kingdom this ain't. The Flower liked it, but didn't really get it. The Boy didn't like it at first, but after we talked about it for a while, he sort of allowed that he had approached it the wrong way. (When The Boy and I disagree, it doesn't usually result in either of us changing our opinion in a broad sweep, but sometimes it happens.)

If there's a secret to this critic's darling, it's that it's an apocalyptic thriller. This movie is about the end of the world, as seen through the eyes of Hushpuppy, a 5/6-year-old girl who lives in her own little trailer in the swamp not far from her dad's complex of corrugated metal and wreckage. Her mom makes fleeting appearances in memories and dreams, as a mythical figure of beauty and mystery, who was so overwhelmed by Hushpuppy when she was born that she simply sailed off.

The Bathtub is as ramshackle as the Hushpuppy's dwelling, but also cohesive, as the inhabitants share a collective ethic: They are free, they survive off the land, and they take care of their own. And a great many of them stay in the face of a large storm (inspired by Hurricane Gustav)—one which puts the island under water.

Worse than the end of the world, Hushpuppy's father is obviously gravely ill. At one point, she punches him in anger and he appears to fall down dead. (He gets better.)

Oh, and a herd of rampaging prehistoric man-eating cattle called aurochs have been released due to melting ice sheets in the arctic (antarctic?) and they're headed right for us!

If you think of this as an adult you'll probably miss the point; this is about how a little girl sees the world, and the importance of her home, her parents and her fears. Hushpuppy is an impressive little girl, and her relationship with her father is complicated and touching. He's hard on her, abusive, at least how we would describe it today, but primarily because he knows he's in trouble and he won't be around forever. She has to be able to survive without him.

When you see how the movie is told from Hushpuppy's point-of-view, you see a crystal clear picture of the struggle between cause-and-effect the child's mind has to overcome. (Somewhat reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's "The Miracles of Jamie".) Huhspuppy thinks she's struck her father dead, she talks to a light on the water as her mother—and even goes to look for it—and she experiences a rescue team and clean, institutional shelter as a terrible prison.

Which it is, really. I actually heard some old ladies clucking about the horrible destitution of The Bathtub and how its residents couldn't bear to face anything else so they'd do anything to get back there. I was watching a free community happily living how it wanted to live away from the "social safety net"—and not coincidentally, a community that was actually very well prepared for real catastrophe.

As I said, I loved it. It's not a child's movie, but it reminds of both Hayao Miyazaki and James and the Giant Peach. The two leads, (New Orleans Bakery Owner) Dwight Henry and especially young Quvenzhané Wallis are compelling and well-drawn characters. Young Wallis could almost be accused of carrying the film on her tiny shoulders but writer/director/composer Benh Zeitlin built the machine that she powered with her performance.

This is the kind of movie that delivers the things we go to the movies for: interesting characters in different lands living unusual lives.

Spider-man again? Amazing!

When your eleven-year-old responds to a reboot with "Already?!" then that may be a sign that said reboot is a bit premature.

Frankly, I didn't think it was such a big deal. When they reboot Batman three years from now, I'll be thinking that's more than enough, probably, but it's not like we're steeped in Spider-Man stories.

To clarify, I didn't think that going in. Actually watching the movie, however, my opinion shifted a little. This movie was in such a panic to jam everything about Spider-man into the movie, it comes off a little jarring and silly at times.

Overall, it's an okay flick. Uneven. I did find myself constantly comparing it to Raimi's version. The CGI in this is light years better. I mean, it's really good, and I was greatly concerned about it. There are a few fakey moments but to a degree it's good enough that the problem comes down to the source material: i.e., some things portrayed in comic books are going to look goofy when you try to translate them to real life.

The costume is great, though utterly unexplainable both in terms of how our hero acquires it and how it seems to have no seams for the hood, yet the hood pulls off easily. Heh.

Andrew Garfield doesn't look anything like Peter Parker, but the near 30-year-old can play a nerdy teen convincingly—entirely differently from Tobey Maguire—and is occasionally much better as the hero.

Sally Fields is pretty awful as Aunt May, but Martin Sheen is even worse as Uncle Ben. Where Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson owned those roles, Sheen (who was so good recently in The Way) seems like a naggy killjoy. Actually, the whole Uncle Ben story arc, which starts out promising, just goes horribly awry.

I mean, he dies because, I guess, he must, but not much comes of it. I mean, there's no funeral. There's no mourning. Life goes on its chirpy way until a few scenes later, when Fields allows how she's a little put out by the whole husband-getting-killed thing.

I'm willing to blame the Uncle Ben thing on the director, but Sally Fields still has the same hair color she had 40 years ago. It's weirdly distracting. You're playing an old lady, Sally, embrace it or just don't take the part. I dunno. It didn't work for me at all.

It threw me off that Dennis Leary was in this movie, because he looks and sounds quite a bit like Willem Dafoe, who played The Green Goblin in the original. But he was pretty good as chief of police and Gwen Stacey's father. Though his story arc is also a little weird.

Emma Stone, once again playing the parts no one will hire Lindsay Lohan for any more, is typically excellent as Gwen Stacey.

The sound mix is occasionally awful and the music sometimes made me go "Huh?" but the real problems with this film have to do with its inability to find its tone.

For example, Raimi's Spider-man was a cheerful, fun action flick with the requisite amounts of melodrama and a tight lid on the camp. Nolan's Batman is dark and heavily realistic.

Marc Webb's (500 Days Of Summer) Spider-man can't seem to make up its mind. There's death and destruction everywhere that's somewhat reminiscent of Nolan's Dark Knight, but Spider-man's always been kind of a smartass, so he'll drop a snarky comment—and it jangles like car keys in the back of a piano. Or something.

It's not just verbal either. The movie commendably embraces comic book logic at some points while at others just drops all logic and then swivels back to a kind of gritty realism. The movie tries to create emotional impacts but then rushes past them in a hurry to jam as much of the myth into the allotted 2.5 hours as it possibly can.

The movie's villain is both menacing and sorta goofy looking, and at times evil-seeming while at others mostly just muddled.

Oh, here's a good example: Peter Parker realizes that he needs to wear the costume to protect his loved ones, but then he leaves a camera with his name and address on it in a conspicuous location. And the movie throws a bunch of crap out that doesn't resolve so,  you know, sequel(s).

We enjoyed it, to varying degrees. The Boy spotted the tonal problems and The Flower just wasn't bowled over but it's not a bad popcorn movie. It's just an inauspicious start for a series that wants to fill the shoes of the previous (however flawed) trilogy.

The Matchmaker

From Israel (and two years ago, sheesh, way to distribute, peoples) comes a charming tale of coming-of-age in the summer of 1968 in Israel. Young Arik and his smartass pals encounter a strange matchmaker, and ends up directing him toward his non-existent web-fingered sister. But as it turns out, the Matchmaker, Yankele Bride was friends with his father before the war.

Though the mother is suspicious of this old...well, I'm not sure if he's actually a gypsy, but I think he's a Romanian, the father suggests that Arik work for Yankele in his matchmaking(/black market) business.

And, because this is a coming-of-age summer story, Arik's pal has a wild American cousin, Tamara, who's coming to stay for the summer.

The Boy and I agreed this was typical of the Israeli films we'd seen: The characters are strongly, sharply and interestingly drawn, to the point where you don't necessarily worry about much else. Still, the movie is excellently shot and the plot unfolds in some fascinating ways.

Yankele's a little shady, but it turns out there's a good reason for it, and not surprisingly, it goes back to the Holocaust. He has a good heart, trying to fix up difficult Israelis with a spouse that will make them happy for life. And they are difficult. His spiel goes something like:

"Let's say I get you Robert Redford, and on the way to the honeymoon, you're in a terrible car accident and his face is disfigured. Do you divorce him? Of course not..."

There are many touching moments, as Yankele tries (and fails repeatedly) to hook up the diminutive owner of the local cinema (the beautiful Bat-el Papura), to suss out the true character of a girl whose family is trying to marry her off to a prominent family, and to help out the timid librarian (Dror Keren) of Arik's school.

It is in these missions that Arik helps Yankele out, in between Yankele teaching him how to observe people. Arik gets the idea to help Meier the Librarian which exposes us to Yankele's confederate, Clara (Maya Dagan), who gently and gracefully coaxes timid men out of their shells. There's an obvious thing between Yankele and Clara, but also something very dark they share from their experiences in the camps.

One thing that struck me is that, at one point, government officials get involved, and the complete lack of sensitivity toward Holocaust survivors who might be a little skittish about ham-handed police action is a good reminder that governments are stupid, dangerous beasts, regardless of the context.

A minor point, I suppose but it stuck out to me.

Anyway, The Boy and I heartily approved. Engaging, well-crafted light drama.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

The Duplass brothers seem to be everywhere lately, with Jeff, Who Lives At Home and Mark showing up in Your Sister's Sister, People Like Us as well as both being writer/director on the upcoming Do-Deca-Pentathlon. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see them as producers of this odd little film based on the infamous classified ad:

"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed."

The premise worked up around this is that three reporters, a debauched 40-year-old cynic, a virginal nerd looking for college credit, and a morose and virginal young woman, are sent to discover the story behind the ad. This actually being a pretext for the older guy, Jeff (played by Jake M. Johnson, who's a bit young for it) to revisit his high-school honey.

Which he does, while sending out the girl, Darius and boy, Arnau to stake out the PO Box and wait for the poster. Seizing the opportunity, Darius ends up spotting the guy and following him around for a bit. (Arnau is too timid to join her.)

And so...we end up with a kind of romantic-comedy. Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza) is interviewing the putative time-traveler (Mark Duplass) by way of pretending to want to join him on his journey, and she clicks with his morose, paranoid style (because she is, too, a little morose and paranoid).

This movie is done in a starkly real fashion, so you never really take the possibility seriously that Kenneth isn't just crazy—until it turns out that he is being followed by government agents, and he really does steal mysterious equipment from high-tech labs.

There is a real delicate balance here between whimsy and seriousness, and the kind of tonal shifting that we saw in the Duplass' Baghead, Cyrus and Jeff—but the Boy and I agreed that this film works better than all those.

We couldn't quite put our finger on why, exactly. It was funnier. Its view of humanity was somewhat more benign, with even Jeff becoming more humanized and likable by the end. (He has his own competing story arc, which is also a reflection on the desire to time-travel.)

It felt a little freer, a little less constrained by the kind of drabness that marks this genre of filmmaking. There is no truly malignant character. And there's a fascinating thematic interaction between time-travel and, well, creative remembering (a.k.a. lying) that raises a bunch of interesting questions at the end.

The Flower was pleased, too.

Magic Mike

So, why would a couple of strapping, heterosexual guys, a father and son, no less, go see a movie about male strippers? Wrong question. The right question is why wouldn't a couple of strapping, heterosexual guys go see a movie about male strippers?

Particularly when directed by Steven Soderbergh, late of Contagion and HaywireSoderbergh is kind of the honey badger of film directors. He doesn't seem to give a, em, hoot and just does what he wants. So, if he directed a movie about male strippers, there's probably more here than just glistening pecs. 

And this is true. This is kind of a fun movie, and not a chick flick at all. In fact, this is a movie that objectifies women way more than it does men. (Is that ironic? I'm not sure. Somebody call Alanis.) It is amazingly sleazy, too, and not entirely in a good way.

The story? In the words of Speaker Pelosi: Are you serious? OK, the plot is, basically, the same plot of every '30s musical, where the young ingenue comes to The City to be discovered, and finds herself understudy to The Star, only to be lured into a life of debauchery, and to maybe or maybe not get her big break when The Star is killed by drug dealers...wait, I'm getting off track.

Anyway, it's that plot, only instead of a female singer/dancer/actress, it's a male stripper. And instead of "playing the Palace", the troupe is trying to get to Miami.

It was the pictures that got small, as someone said.

Also, this is more about the established Star, the pecular (see what I did there?) Magic Mike, rather than the Ingenue, who's been on the exciting, whirlwind life of debauchery and is feeling a little over-the-hill at 30. (I guess some dudes, like the 50-year-old "Tarzan" character are destined to be strippers till they're using walkers.)

Mike's a guy with a lot of marginally successful, non-stripping, gigs but his heart is in furniture crafting. He's saved a few bucks and is trying to leverage that into a bank loan to get it started. Tragically, he has poor credit, and his multiple ventures make him look rather flaky. He's also dopey enough to think piling out cash onto a banker's desk is going to give him more credibility.

One has to overlook the silliness here. I guess we can assume that Mike pissed away his 20s and blew all his cash, because he only has about $15K, even though he's a single dude who's got to be pulling down at least $50K a year, all cash. So that aspect of the story is not explained.

We also have to believe he's tired of the lifestyle, and really yearns to be taken seriously by his grad-student sorta girlfriend he shares women with (Olivia Munn). Or maybe by the square-jawed flat-chested-so-you-know-she's-not-a-bimbo sister (Cody Horn) as the ingenue who manages to resist his charms.

Which, let's be honest, are considerable. Channing Tatum, as Magic Mike, looks like Brad Pitt, if only Brad Pitt had taken working out more seriously. And I think he's probably a better actor, too. He's almost certainly a better dancer. He was so good, I forgot it was him, and wondered where they found this male stripper who could act.

Which, given Tatum's history as a stripper, upon which this story is loosely based, is really what happened.

So, yeah, this is a sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll fun-time romp, that actually goes out of its way to not glamorize the lifestyle, and shows that, even in a movie about male strippers, the men are objectifying women like crazy.

I did feel like this whole male stripper thing is just fundamentally wrong. I'm not into the female stripping thing, particularly, either, but there are certain truths with men. Like, a lot of them can't get a woman (any woman) without paying. Men know that it's sleazy and something to hide. On some level, a man going to strip club represents a failure on his part. The Game guys scoff at them.

Women don't have any of that. A woman can pretty much always get some poor sap interested. And where men huddle in the shadows, women hoot and holler and get involved in the routines in a way that would get any man arrested. It's empowering for a woman to let a stripper pretend-ravage her on a stage.

Anyway, it's not like you can blame Magic Mike for that. But it is really gross. And it feels like the end of Western Civilization.

Soderbergh keeps the proceedings natural (which some people mistake for bad acting), inserts a lot of sly humor. Matthew McConaughey—well, he looks pretty ragged for a 42-year-old, to me, but he's definitely cut. And mostly naked, if that's your sort of thing.

If the sleaziness and the collapse of the Western World doesn't bother you, it's a fun little flick.


The Boy said, "They're God-damned American heroes."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People Like Us

There's a pretty sharp divide between people who like People Like Us and critics, who largely don't. Not as severe as with the Christian-themed movies, like Machine Gun Preacher and Blue Like Jazz, but still pretty distinctive.

Given my cynicism, I'm inclined to believe that this is because the characters in People Like Us are generally pretty likable, decent people, though people with some major character flaws.

Chris Pine plays Sam, who's a barter broker (this is presented as shady, though I don't know why it would necessarily be so) living in New York City, having a rough time at his job, though he does have a hot girlfriend, Hannah (played by Olivia Wilde).

And then his dad dies.

Sam's reaction is not one of grief, but rather avoidance. He doesn't want to go back to Los Angeles for the funeral, and only does so to avoid having to explain to Hannah why he doesn't want to go back.

The standard dysfunctional family fare takes a turn when Sam discovers that his father has left him a wad of money—not for himself, but for some woman (Elizabeth Banks) living in the Valley (gasp!). The story unfolds around Sam's investigation into who she is, and his own struggling with whether or not to keep this money, which he could desperately use.

Good acting all around, especially from good looking women who never actually seem to be asked to act: Banks, Wilde, and (as Sam's mom) Michelle Pfeiffer. Youngster Michael Hall D'Addario also does a credible job. Pine has to carry the movie, and I thought he did a very fine job, indeed (far removed from his Captain Kirk persona).

Mark Duplass, he of the Duplass brothers-who-seem-to-be-everywhere-these-days, has a small but amusing role as Banks' neighbor that she basically takes advantage of via hotness.

As a drama/comedy, The Boy thought that this was a little light on the comedy. I pointed out that drama/comedy almost always is—and, actually, given some of the heavy topics addressed by the movie, the funny parts were really funny, in an organic way. The Flower enjoyed it quite a bit, too.

I guess this is already officially a flop, having not made back its meager $16M budget but that seems unwarranted. It's not much of a summer movie, but it's an entertaining two hours.

A bonus for me was that the exterior shots were all my stomping grounds. At one point, Sam takes the Highland off-ramp and turns right on Fountain, which is practically my daily commute. (They follow it up with a shot of a hotel that's not on that route, of course.) The record store, the church, the penthouse are all places that I know.

Hilariously, the ostensibly bad neighborhood Banks lives in is an apartment less than a mile from here that I probably was in when I was first looking for an apartments. We drive past it all the time when visiting grandma (they just stripped the first two numbers from the address).

Obviously,  you're unlikely to enjoy that, but it's still a pretty decent flick.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story

Benzion Netanyahu died a few months back which prompted some interest in me about the Netanyahu family, whose three sons include the current Prime Minister of Israel, a doctor/playwright, and a commando who died during the Entebbe Raid in 1976. So, when I saw "Follow Me" playing at the nearly local art house, I dragged the kids down to see it.

And by dragged I mean I told them I was going to see it and they could come along and eat popcorn if they wanted to. The Flower liked it, but The Boy was unmoved. He didn't dislike it but it didn't engage him. Which I understand. This was 35 years ago, and he gets the context even less than I do.

I found this to be an interesting documentary about an interesting guy. There's a bit of paean to it, of course. Yoni Netanyahu finished 13th on a list of "most important Israeli" survey, so you know they love this guy.

He was handsome, smart, charismatic and, perhaps most interestingly to me, if not a natural leader, a leader out of necessity. Israel needed leaders for its impossible experiment. They needed to kick some Arab ass, and kick it decisively, and even when Yoni didn't want to be that guy, Israel needed that guy and he stepped up.

Actually, he stepped up again and again, until he paid the ultimate price.

Some of his writings, say during his teen years in America, struck me as self-important and naive—but then again he was a teen, coming form an embattled land and immersed in the triviality of an American high school in the '60s, where the radical chic must've been sardonically amusing for a guy born in a country locked in an existential struggle from the moment of its creation.

And, too, whatever else you can say about him, you can't say he didn't put up. If he wasn't a natural leader, he was much less a natural soldier, yearning for a more scholarly life. He just had the misfortune to come of age in a time of war, and Israel had the good fortune to have someone whose philosophy didn't allow him to hide.

The movie itself is constructed with two parallel streams, alternating timelines: one from the time of Yoni's birth, and the other in the days leading up to the raid, until they merge at the end of the movie. This gives things a kind of tragic and urgent feel.

I found it quite engaging and touching, especially to see Bibi Netanyahu talk about his big brother, in terms both reverential and melancholic. Benzion is in there, too, and it's impossible to avoid the pathos that comes from any family that suffers a tragic loss.

The movie shies away from any controversy, which I think is good, but I couldn't help but wonder about some aspects of the final raid. At the same time, Yoni was the kind of guy who'd be first on to the plane, so it's not surprising that this is how he met his end.

Still, amazing guy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Grand Illusion (1937)

The Grand Illusion is a 75-year-old French movie by Jean Renoir that finds its parallel in American movies like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape. Woody Allen alleges it to be his favorite film, and he is not alone in his regard.

And what is "The Grand Illusion"? It's never explained in the film, but back in 1913, a book called "The Great Illusion" explained to its European audience how war in Europe would be a futile exercise, since the price of conquest to the interdependent European economies would be greater than anything that could be acquired.

This book was re-released in 1933.

So, I guess it was more advisory versus prophetic. But it won the author, Norman Angell a Nobel Prize.

Anyway, this movie takes place during World War I, among various French Air Force officers who were shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans. Officers were relatively well treated, with many of them friends from college days, from their aristocratic circles, or even just extended family.

They had to try to escape, of course, just as their erstwhile pals had to shoot them. Dreadful business, what, but nothing personal: Just duty.

It's a fairly lively film, beautifully shot and blocked, and you can see why it's popular among cinephiles. It's eminently watchable still, although it drags a bit in the third act, when a successful escape is made, and the surviving characters are followed to a bucolic setting in the heart of enemy territory. Not that this section is without its moments of tension and pathos, but it literally takes months of story time, with action largely suspended.

It's like a different movie, almost.

A lot of the themes that Renoir touches on don't resonate today like they would have in '37: There is this theme of the death of the aristocracy, for example, whereas by now, all the good aspects of aristocracy (manners, class, restraint—or at least discretion) are long gone.

The poignancy of the whole "futility of war" theme may even be lost on us today. We're in the middle of The Great Peace—and Angell may have been right! It may be the very economic interdependence which keeps the world peaceful. (Which is a good reason in and of itself to promote healthy economies worldwide.)

There's an ingrained anti-semitism and even a little (very little) old-fashioned white-on-black racism. What's interesting is where a film like Joyeaux Noel tells us that the schoolchildren were all being taught about the inferiority of other nations (and isn't this at the heart of all war?) this movie, which is considerably closer to the time in question evinces almost no actual serious -ism.

That is, everyone's aware of their German, Brit, or French status, but the sort of tribal slurs that were common in the propaganda of the day (the HUN will EAT your BABY!) don't show up anywhere in the film. (They don't actually show up in Joyeaux Noel, either, if memory serves, after the begining of the film. I think wars are not so much caused by mis-education of the masses as much as the fever dreams of the elite.)

At times—say, when the French dudes weren't dressing up in drag and puttin' on a musical revue—the movie seemed less French than American. I realized, however, that what it was was a general kind of patriotism with an overall pro-Western feel.

I guess French popular cinema had not yet given up on existence. There's a refreshing lack of ennui, a distinct lack of nihilism, and even a bon vivant feel to the proceedings which make most of the 2 hours seem barely long enough. Great, concise character development, and lively dialogue (that switches breezily between languages) make the experience enjoyable.

You know, it's a sense of adventure that's there. Like those great prison camp movies of post-War America: War is hell, life is hard, but this is the hand you're dealt so you might as well pick your chin up and whistle a happy tune while you're digging your tunnel. Even if it does use your oxygen up more quickly.

Maybe because the audience knew the hell of war—director included, since Jean Gabin is wearing Jean Renoir's flight jacket—the filmmakers didn't feel the need to pound them over the head with how awful it is.

On a final note, the new print that is circulating around is wonderful. Clear as a bell, except for one out-of-focus shot. It may not be the best movie ever made, but it's certainly one of the best in theaters right now.

Cabin In The Woods

"It's so totally meta!" has become The Flower's watch phrase since seeing the Joss Whedon horror-comedy Cabin In The Woods. And it is. At least, this movie is, with Whedon's trademarked (seriously! I think he has a trademark for Whedonesque) genre awareness that skirts the border between hip and camp


The core premise is simple, and familiar to the point of being not just tired, but exhausted, drained of all vitality, a veritable walking dead of a movie plot: Five college kids plan to spend a week in a cabin in the woods and—well, something bad is going to happen, to kill them off one-by-one.


Our characters are a kind of alpha couple, their more reserved friends they've set up as a blind date, and the stoner. 


But wait, there's more. In fact, there's a larger, overarching plot (that reminds strongly of the later years "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel") involving a mysterious group of secret government office workers who are orchestrating the events of the week.


Now, it was pretty obvious to this old horror watcher what was going on, but it didn't matter really. The meta-story allows Whedon to deal briefly with the traditional trappings of the teen-slasher flick (which he does well enough) in such a way that explains some of the stupider aspects of said genre.


And, he gets to contrast that with the banality of a cruel bureaucracy that exploits the hapless youngsters' plights for yuks, thrills and voyeuristic frisson. And he puts the audience in a weird kind of situation where we almost have to root for the kids to die, too.


That's kind of meta, too: When you go to a slasher flick, you're enjoying the characters being slashed, presumably, but Whedon challenges you to actively root for them to die. This should be nihilistic, I suppose, but it's all in good fun.


He even pulls out a decent ending.


The kids loved it. 


I should note that the third act is an absolute bloodbath. It's so over-the-top at that point, that it's impossible not to laugh at it, but you may not want your delicate little 11-year-old girl watching that stuff. (My 11-year-old girl isn't that delicate, on the other hand.)


Also: Sigourney Weaver.

Definitely recommended if you don't mind some good-natured gore and are into meta.

Happy Birthday, Pop!

My father was born on the fourth of July. He maintained that he was at least five before he realized the fireworks weren't for him, and that he was quite disappointed when he found out.

Had he lived, our plan last year was to head out to the beach, and to celebrate his birthday with banana splits. (He was on dialysis for over 15 years, and potassium was a serious issue, so banana splits were largely out-of-the-question.)

I hope to write a lot more about him this coming year. I miss him terribly but I've been really busy—something he would have appreciated.

Contributors