Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

PAPERMAN (2012)
I forgot to review this last week. Excellent animation and score; slight, but genuine and very cute, worth seeing for the excellent technique behind it alone. ****

WALKABOUT (1971)
Fascinating film, a beautiful and strange pastoral about a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her little brother, lost in the Australian outback. They end up crossing paths with a teenage aborigine boy on his walkabout, and he becomes their guide, their companion, and their protector, leading them back to the white urban lives they're used to. Director Nicolas Roeg makes some interesting parallels between the two cultures that meet, but also highlights the differences in how they perceive each other and what they expect from the world around them (they can't even speak each other's languages). Both the white girl and the black boy are on their own respective coming-of-age walkabouts; for him, it's a serious rite of passage; for her, a torment and maybe an idyll. And it's very fraught with sexual symbolism. Masterful and purposefully obscure. ****

RACHEL, RACHEL (1968)
Joanne Woodward is excellent in this story of a middle-aged small town teacher chafing under the confines of a life she doesn't know how to break out of. She lives with her widowed mother above a funeral home. She has never had a sexual experience. She's uncertain how to express her feelings and feels afraid. She's haunted by past fears and embarrassments. It's a small, understated story, but Woodward's performance is powerful. She fully inhabits Rachel in a way that elevates the film from Paul Newman's somewhat uncertain direction. The film's ending is wonderfully inspired where it could have devolved into tragedy. ***1/2

IMITATION OF LIFE (1934)
I ultimately liked this tale of a white woman and a black woman who go into business together and raise their daughters. It raises some issues that I'm not entirely used to seeing from movies in 1934, such as the status of African-Americans (particularly the disparity between the two main characters) and one daughter's desire to pass for white. I wish the tone of the film hadn't been so gosh darn earnest, though, but it's a problem with a lot of movies from this era. There's a death in particular that would have been much more powerful if the character hadn't been presented in such a saintly way. ***1/2

PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY (2013)
I never followed the Casey Anthony court case, so I can't say how this movie captures (or doesn't) the reality of the whole thing. The dramatized version, however, is pretty woeful; the prosecution just kind of goes in, assumes Casey Anthony is guilty (they fall back on slut-shaming, which has become an especially tired Lifetime movie device), and runs a case based on assumptions, suppositions, and (in one scene) deliberately withholding evidence. Like I said, I don't know the reality of the whole thing, but the guys in the movie sure deserved to lose; they aren't ever portrayed as people who build a convincing legal argument with sufficient evidence. Instead, they're pretty self-righteous and their case is easily picked apart by the defense. I think the movie makes a mistake by not picking a viewpoint and staying with it; it wants to be evenhanded, but it follows only the prosecution, so we're getting a somewhat dispassionate view of one side of the case. The filmmakers just can't decide whether they agree with the half of the case they've chosen to highlight, so the whole thing never comes off. And too much of the real world news controversy is just Nancy Grace and Nancy Grace's bizarre guest host, which doesn't help, because I find Nancy Grace extremely ridiculous. Just... a little girl died, could you try and tell a story about it that maybe goes somewhere and says something? And if you're going to spend the opening setting up Rob Lowe's character for a hubristic fall, don't treat him like a wounded hero at the end. You can't have it every way, Lifetime. **1/2

BITTER RICE (1949)
Excellent Italian crime flick. Doris Dowling and Vittorio Gassman are two criminals on the run from the police after a jewel heist. They hide among the crowds of female workers heading to the Po Valley rice fields. Enter Silvana (the amazingly sexy Silvana Mangano), a flighty, seductive climber who is attracted to what she thinks is the glamour and wealth of the criminal lifestyle. She forges a relationship with Dowling, who is slowly growing disillusioned with her boyfriend's criminal ways and becoming more aware of a sense of shared community among workers. There are political/ideological undertones, but it's also a story of two women and their desires. ****

BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (1958)
This reminded me a bit of Rififi, which I saw a few weeks ago, but instead plays its heist story for laughs. The criminals are a group of losers, small-timers and fuck-ups who plan to rob a pawn shop, even as everything goes wrong along the way. I like that it's not necessarily a farce; a lot of the humor is character-oriented. Marcello Mastroianni is particularly funny as a character I've not really seen him play before, and Claudia Cardinale is beautiful in a small role. **** This would make a great double feature with The Lavender Hill Mob.

GINGER & ROSA (2012)
This is an emotionally passionate film about growing up. I was stunned by the depth of feeling in Elle Fanning's performance as one of two teenage girls in 1962 England. She plays Ginger. She and her best friend Rosa (they were born on the same day, in the same room) are growing up at different rates. Ginger wants to be a poet, an anti-nuclear weapons activist, and is clearly in love with Rosa. Rosa, on the other hand, wants to find true love and learn about what boys like. There's a crushing betrayal that happens and which Ginger tries so hard to not be affected by, until what she's feeling threatens to either explode or destroy her. All of this is mirrored by her growing concern about nukes destroying the world, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis. She's so tortured by wanting to make a difference in the world, not in small part because she feels like she can't make a difference in a life that is both stifling and too permissive. I was especially responsive to Ginger's father (Alessandro Nivola), whom she worships. He fosters her intellectually, but is ultimately a loathsome, detestable person who looks down on everyone and masks his crippling selfishness as a noble worship of individuality. The film shows us that this is a man who lives by his principles even if it destroys every personal relationship he has, and looks at the emotional devastation he causes and accepts no responsibility, instead looking at it as simply fallout from his unshakable ideals. Something the film forces us to think about is whether the ideals we believe in so passionately can be lived by uncompromisingly, as Ginger's world turns out to be rife with moral hypocrites and intellectual dishonesty. She wants to save the world from bombs, but her own family is bomb with just as much power to devastate. ****

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I tried really hard to avoid Casey Anthony, but your assessment of the case, as far as I can tell, seems pretty accurate.