Current Events

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Brylcreem Boys; The Concert; Curse of the Golden Flower; Enigma; Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet; Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train; Limitless; Linnea in Monet’s Garden; Made in Dagenham; Morning Glory; My Architect: A Son’s Journey; Parental Guidance; and That’s What I Am

The Brylcreem Boys   1998  102 minutes   Ireland, in order to maintain its neutrality during WW II, interned any Allied or German military men found on its soil in adjoining stockades in County Kildare.  I don’t know if the love triangle in the film – Irish girl, Canadian bomber pilot and German fighter pilot – has any basis in fact, but it’s a pretty good story, especially when Jean butler demonstrates Irish dancing, the highlight of the film.  The film’s title comes from a nickname for British airmen.  It’s all worth seeing just to catch up on this strange bit of WW II history – and watch her dance.  And the countryside is just beautiful.

The Concert   2009   107 minutes   Thirty years earlier Andrei Filipov, conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra, was  stopped and arrested in the middle of a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, proclaimed a traitor for defying Brezhnev and sent to the gulag with his first violinist, Lea Strum, and her husband.  His crime was his refusal to fire his Jewish musicians.  His dream then and now was to create perfect harmony with the orchestra he had led and the unique playing of Lea.  Filipov now works at the Bolshoi as a cleaner and while in the director’s office he sees an incoming fax from Paris asking the Bolshoi Orchestra to fill in for a major concert in two weeks, because the LA Philharmonic has suddenly cancelled.  He grabs the fax and arranges a magnificent scam to impersonate the Bolshoi and give his musicians a chance to come together again and play in Paris.  He insists on a famous young French violinist to play the solo.  You will never see a better film about the difficulties of being an artist in a totalitarian society.   In the last scene, while the orchestra plays, we see clips of what happens in the future to the orchestra and the violin soloist who discovers her origins.

Curse of the Golden Flower   2006   114 minutes   I watched this because the director was Yimou Zhang.  The story involves palace intrigues and dynastic machinations.  It’s not very good.  It is worth seeing for the spectacle when the Emperor  Ping’s son attempts a coup de etat and to see Gong Li as the beleaguered empress.

Enigma   2001   119 minutes    Because this is a highly fictionalized version of what happened at Bletchley Park during WW II, there was some criticism of the film, but it is a good story even though it doesn’t mention Alan Turing, the real breaker of the Nazi’s Enigma Code.

Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet   2001   96 minutes   As the title indicates, the film is more about the professional lives of the dancers than about dance itself.  It was interesting, but I found myself skipping ahead.

Howard Zinn:  You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train   2004  77 minutes   Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn's commitment to social change.  What a thorn he must have been in the sides of conservatives.  He was bright, handsome and articulate and totally devoted to social change and the betterment of conditions for the working classes.

Limitless   2011  104 minutes   Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a sort of messed up young writer who is getting nowhere on his novel.  Just after his girlfriend dumps him, he runs into his ex-wife’s brother, who gives him a pill that he says will change Eddie’s life because it will increase his ability to use his brain from 20% to 100%.  It does but, when he goes back for more, he finds the brother with a bullet in his head.  He calls the police and, while waiting for them to arrive, ransacks the apartment looking for more pills.  He finds them in the bottom of the stove along with a big wad of cash.  He finishes the novel in four days and makes such a splash trading stocks and making a couple of million with money borrowed from a gangster.  On the basis of his success in the market, he’s invited by an oil company executive played by Robert De Niro to evaluate a merger De Niro is negotiating.  It seems De Niro’s opposite has also been taking the pills but has run out and is suffering possibly fatal withdrawal symptoms.  Naturally he sends his people after Eddie to get his stash.  Also Eddie made the mistake of giving the gangster a pill.  He wants more and also comes after Eddie.  Things do work out.  Eddie has made so much money that he is able to pay a chemist to make more pills and then synthesize the results so that he can stop taking them and retain his heightened intellectual capability.  We last see him running for the Senate and turning down De Niro’s offer to back a run for president – too many strings attached.

Linnea in Monet’s Garden   1993   29 minutes   This is an animated Swedish children’s film designed to introduce the very young to Monet.  It’s very well done.

Made in Dagenham  2010  113 minutes    In 1968 187 women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant went on strike, asking for equal pay with men doing work at similar skill levels.  The women sewed seat covers, and when existing stocks of finished seats were exhausted, the whole plant had to be shut down.   Ford, which employed 40,000 British workers, stonewalled and threatened to pull out of Britain if the women were given equal pay.   Eventually they caved after the strikers met with the Harold Wilson’s Minister of Labor and convinced her that not only the principle of equal pay but also the timing was right.  The strikers got 92% of what they asked for and an equal pay law two years later.  This is really a wonderful film.  It covers the larger issue of equal pay and also the human costs to individuals and their families.  Sally Hawkins is fantastic as Rita O’Grady, the strike leader -- young, vulnerable and tough as nails.  Everyone involved in the film from the producer and director to the rank and file cast members seems to have made a project out of this to revive an almost forgotten story and do their bit for equal treatment of women in the workforce.

Morning Glory   2010   107 minutes   Rachel McAdams plays an innovative 29 year old producer who gets fired from her job producing the morning news at a local station, because, even though they love her, they can’t afford both her and the new guy that they think they are hiring “for the future of the station.”  Eventually she gets a trial for a network morning show.  She’s successful in spicing things up and raising the shows numbers somewhat, but the network execs still plan to cancel the show.  One of the things she tries is getting a crusty old reporter and former anchor, played crustily by Harrison Ford, to do not only news but the infotainment that seems to be necessary from higher ratings in the morning.  He refuses.  When she gets an offer from NBC’s Morning Show, Ford decides he wants to save her and the show at his network.  It’s not only a good story with really great actors, but it’s also something to see for the crazy schemes McAdams comes up with for morning news segments.

My Architect: A Son’s Journey:   2003  115 minutes   A documentary on Louis I Kahn’s contributions to 20th C architecture would have been interesting.  This film seems more like an ego trip for his out of wedlock son, Nathaniel Kahn.

Parental Guidance   2012   104 riotous minutes   Once again Billy Crystal proves he is a genius.  If you read the standard blurb about this film  -- tech deprived grandparents try to take care of three grandchildren for a week in the kid’s high tech house  and to deal with the various therapists and specialized teachers their new age parents have arranged for them – you might be prepared to be bored.  Warning: prepare for just the opposite.  A little old fashioned parenting gets the daughter off the hook for competing for a violin career that she really doesn’t want, cures the older boy’s stutter and kills and buries Karl, the younger boy’s imaginary kangaroo friend.  The best scene is when the youngest gets on top of the half pipe during a skate board trial, pees over the side and causes the world champion to wipe out.  But that’s just a sample.

That’s What I Am   2011   101 minutes   A 12 year old boy thinks maybe his life has ended when the school’s most respected teacher, played by Ed Harris, pairs him with the class geek for a project.  The outcome of that is almost inevitable, but what one doesn’t see coming is an accusation that Harris is gay.  He’s been a widower for 19 years, he is acknowledged as the best teacher in the school, and he won the teacher of the year award for all of California the previous year.  It starts with one kid just saying Harris is gay and spreads through the whole student body.  When Harris won’t affirm or deny it, he loses all support from the faculty and parents and leaves at the end of the school year.  In case it’s not obvious that he is not gay, in one of the last scenes he tells the boy that he never remarried perhaps because he loved his wife too much.

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