Current Events

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Freedom Writers; J. Edgar; Leaves of Grass; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Tower Heist; and Others

Bread and Tulips   2000  116 minutes   If only the Italians would make more movies!   An unhappy housewife who is taken for granted by her philandering husband hitchhikes to Venice and makes a new life for herself working in a florist shop and living in a room let by a suicidal waiter played by Bruno Ganz.  Her best new friend besides Ganz is the massage therapist who lives and works in the room next to hers.  Her husband hires a new plumber for his bathroom remodeling business and sends him to Venice to try to find his wife.  It’s all about lower middle class life in Italy and it’s all delightful comedy
Come See the Paradise   1990  138 minutes   I was intrigued by the idea of a film about an interracial marriage like mine before WW II.  An Irish American labor organizer falls in love with a second generation (Nisei) Japanese woman in Los Angeles in about 1936.  They move to Oregon where it is legal for them to get married and try to make a life there.  Eventually they separate when he is arrested in a labor demonstration.  She returns to her family in LA just in time to be swept up in the turmoil of the early days of WW II.  This has to be the best dramatization I have seen of the brutality and injustice of the internment of Japanese Americans during the war.  They were in those stables for two months and the concentration camps they were they sent to weren’t much better until they improved them themselves.
Freedom Writers   2007   122 minutes    This is one of the best movies nobody will see.  I put it in my queue because it has Hilary Swank.  It’s the true story of how Erin Gruell, a beginning teacher, white and Ivy League trained, bonded with a multi-racial freshman high school class in which no one was expected to graduate and persuaded the members of the various racial groups, Hispanic, African[-American, Cambodian, Chinese and one white guy, to bond with each other.  There were gang issues and every other kind of issue, and she managed to overcome them all.  She gave each of them a journal and required them to write something every day.  Eventually these became a book published in the late 1990s.  Among the things she used to reach them was the Holocaust, which helped her persuade them that their hardships were not unique and that they had a future.   Her students took the initiative to raise the money to bring the woman who hid Anne Frank to LA to speak to them.  Her first two years with the class were so successful, including test scores, that she was able to get permission to stay with them through the whole four years to graduation.  If you get the disk, look at the bonus features.  Some of the deleted scenes are fabulous.  It must have hurt to cut them. And Hilary Swank found herself bonding with the young actors in the movie in much the same way that Erin Gruell bonded with her class.
Harrison’s Flowers   2000  122 minutes     Sarah is a happily married photo editor for Newsweek.  Her husband, Harrison Lloyd, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, who is having second thoughts about covering the world’s hotspots.  He reluctantly accepts one last assignment to cover the war in Croatia.  Sarah gets word that he has been killed but refuses to accept that he is dead and goes herself to Croatia to find him.  She does, but he is badly damaged and it is more than a year after his return before he even knows who she is.  End of story, end of review, except that the real movie here is the horror of ethnic cleansing.  I have never seen a more dramatic and horrifying depiction of war close up, evil and nasty.  I was just watching this on a 42” TV with no special sound system and the special effects had me jumping out of my seat.  The “flowers” were in Harrison’s greenhouse behind the Lloyd’s home, and that’s where he recovers his memory.
Haywire   2011  92 minutes    This is mostly a martial arts film.  Mallory Kane is an undercover operative for a security company that has contracts with CIA.  She is sent on a mission to extract a hostage and she succeeds.  She is immediately sent on another mission which is actually a set up to get her killed as part of a giant cover up.  Gina Carano, who plays Kane, wasn’t an actor when she was hired for this film.  She was 155 pounds of rather attractive gristle who had won 12 out of 13 cage boxing matches and was planning for more.  This is only an o.k. film, but the job she does, considering her lack of acting experience is amazing.
J. Edgar   2011  137 minutes    I never thought I would say I didn’t like a film directed by Clint Eastwood, but I had problems with this one.  The depressing story of Hoover gets told from beginning to end and maybe that’s the problem.  Hoover was a bastard and there’s only one thing worse, a hypocritical bastard, which he was in the pluperfect.  Leonardo DiCaprio is convincing as Hoover, especially in his later years.
Leaves of Grass   2010   105 minutes   I wasn’t expecting to like this film, but I did.  Edward Norton plays a classics professor at Brown and also his dropout twin brother, who raises the finest hydroponic pot in Oklahama.  Prof. Norton hasn’t seen his Oklahoma family for more than ten years and doesn’t ever plan to see them again, but he is inveigled to return home for a weekend.  His brother wants him to be seen around town looking like him while he goes to Memphis to “settle a debt.”  The brother murders the drug lord who is pressuring him to expand his production into other drugs and hopes the professor’s presence in his home town will provide him with an ironclad alibi.  Things don’t work out.   You do get to see Keri Russell noodling, and Susan Sarandon plays Susan Sarandon.
Lilyhammer  2011  Season 1   An original Netflix TV series on instant view doesn’t belong in a list of movie reviews, but here it is.  Steven VanZandt, who ran the Bada Bing Club for Tony Soprano, plays Frank Tagliano, a gangster who asks for Lilyhammer when he enters the witness protection program after testifying against a Mafia boss.  It’s funny and sad as he exploits every human weakness he finds among the incredibly decent and law-abiding Norwegians.  By Part 8 I was  convinced that he is eventually going to corrupt the whole country.
Max Manus   2008   113 minutes    This is the true story of Norwegian resistance leader Max Manus who inflicted major damage on the Nazi war effort.   He later became a successful businessman and managed to die in bed in his 80s, but virtually all of his friends and colleagues perished in the war.   The movie doesn’t have the flow that you would get in a Hollywood thriller and the action scenes are sparse by Hollywood standards, but maybe that makes them all the more convincing as events that actually happened to real people in real towns and cities in Norway during WW II.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol   2011  133 long minutes    Time to hang it up, Cruise.  If you want to do all these crazy stunts, why not shift to animation and bring in someone attractive like Tin Tin.  Or do a travel movie in which we can look at the world’s tallest building without pretending that someone could crawl all over the outside of it in a sandstorm and survive.
Queen to Play   (Joueuse)  2009   101 minutes   Helene is a hotel maid married to a handy man.  She notices a glamorous couple playing chess at the hotel and decides she wants to learn.  A doctor whom she cleans for one afternoon a week reluctantly agrees to show her the basics.  He discovers that she has a real gift for the game and eventually she does too.  Her husband doesn’t approve of her new interest and the villagers decide she is having an affair with the doctor.  She considers quitting, but with the doctor’s help hones her skills, wins the local tournament to everyone’s surprise, and heads to Paris for a major tournament.  Yes, it’s about her hidden and unexpected talent, but it’s more about her developing her intellectual capacities and what that can do to change one’s life.   If you’re not paying attention, you may miss the fact that she also starts to read.
Sarah’s Key   2010  102 minutes    It’s Paris 1942 and as the police are coming up the stairs to drag her family away to a camp, Sarah hides her younger brother in a closet and takes the key with her.  She expects to return right away, but she first has to escape from the camp and find a way back to Paris.  An old French couple helps her.  By the time they get to Paris, the little brother has died and begun to decompose.  It’s a traumatic experience from which Sarah never recovers.  She lives with the old couple as their daughter until she is old enough to make it on her own and then she disappears.  Sixty-seven years later her story intersects with that of an American journalist investigating the roundup.  It’s a fascinating story based on a novel.  The round-up and the separation of families at the camp will tear your heart out.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy   2011   128 minutes    This a one of John LeCarre’s classic thrillers of Cold War espionage.  This time there’s a high level mole in MI-6 and Smiley has to find him and avoid being fingered as the mole himself.  I recently reread this novel and enjoyed it a lot.  I found the film a little hard to follow.
Tower Heist   2011  104 minutes   It’s Night at the Museum all over again.  Ben Stiller is the manager of a Ritzy Manhattan condo.  He puts the employees’ pension fund in the hands of Alan Alda, a resident known for his financial genius.  Actually he’s more like Bernie Madoff.   Stiller gets together with the other employees to hatch a plot to get their money back.  There’s a solid gold car, a Jamaican maid who can open safes, and a sympathetic female FBI agent who takes a liking to Stiller.  It’s a gas.
The Way   2010  120 minutes   When Martin Sheen’s son dies in the Pyrenees while hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, he flies to France to claim the remains.   Once there he decides to make the trek himself and dispose of his son’ ashes gradually as he hikes the long pilgrim road.  Along the way, he learns to deal with the issues he had with his 40 something itinerant bachelor son and accrues three traveling companions, each with his or her own issues.  The point is well made that the pilgrimage can be a life altering event, but I wish the director had been able to show us more of sites along the way.

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