Movie Review: C.O.G. (2013)

COG

The movie opens as the main character, Samuel (Jonathan Groff), rides a bus across the country.  Through the back story, we understand that Samuel is leaving Connecticut after having graduated from Yale with a graduate degree in Japanese.  Next to him sits an apparently crazed stranger spewing out her lunacy on him as if they were intimates.  We are quickly introduced to a cadre of other “characters” before Samuel hits his destination – Oregon – and a few others after he lands there.

Samuel’s real name is David, but for some reason, on his little odyssey, he prefers to go by the name “Samuel .”  The director alludes to some issues of abandonment and other difficulties in Samuel/David’s relationship with his mother and also with a friend, Jennifer.  It is unclear the depth of his relationship with Jennifer, and exactly why he cares that she abandoned him to go off with some guy in a two-seater sports car.  Are they merely friends? Is there more to their relationship?  Perhaps even Samuel/David is confused.

So what does a Yale graduate with a degree in Japanese do when seeking employment?  He applies to pick apples, naturally.  Certainly, this makes Samuel a fish out of water.  When the orchard owner, Hobbs(Dean Stockwell) asks Samuel/David why he wants to pick apples, he replies, “Change of pace; get my hands dirty.”  Later, as Hobbs is directing Samuel on his job duties and the need to pick only the best and most perfect fruit, Samuel remarks, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”  I sense a theme here.

Jennifer (Troian Bellisario) shows up briefly with her new sports-car beau.  She is less than enthused at Samuel’s choice of employment.  He reminds her that she encouraged this by reading “The Grapes of Wrath” and suggesting that the two of them work in the fields.  I sense, by her response to his career choice, that she was merely speaking philosophically and not realistically about working with these types of people.

Although clearly highly educated, and wearing his Yale sweater while he picks apples, Samuel eats and sleeps with the Mexican migrant workers.  He loosely befriends a younger man named Pedro.  Pedro exits quickly, and just as quickly Samuel finds himself no longer living in the migrant barracks, but now living in a small silver trailer on the back property.  Instead of picking apples, Samuel is promoted to working in the factory sorting the apples with mostly female co-workers (which he will later agree are “fat dikes”).  The Mexican migrant workers now reject him, and no longer allow him eat with them, while the female co-workers in the factory essentially do the same.

Samuel meets a nefarious fork lift operator named Curly (Corey Stoll) in the factory.  They form an instant bond, perhaps because they are two of the few males working on the floor level of the factory.  Through Curly’s recommendation,  Samuel is again instantly promoted, this time to  sorting the fancy apples upstairs.  However, in the minds of some people, every favor comes with a price.

Through a series of events, Samuel finds himself calling Jon (Denis O’Hare), a born again Christian, former alcoholic/dry drunk, and Desert Storm vet who lost one leg to a landmine in the war.  Samuel briefly connected with Jon in the beginning of the movie, as Jon was prostelytizing on the streets.    Jon handed Samuel a pamphlet with the acronym C.O.G. (child of God) on the front,  and his name and phone number on the back. This was fortuitous, as Samuel later needs someone’s help, sees the pamphlet and calls Jon.

Jon lives with some well meaning fellow church goers who let him live with them out of the goodness of their hearts and their seeming desire to live the Christian life.  They allow Jon (and now Samuel) to live and work in the basement, where Jon creates  homemade clocks in the shape of Oregon out of rough jade – he anticipates selling them to the locals at an art fair for $100 each.  He hires Samuel to help him create the clocks.

If you  assume that when one pronounces themselves a Christian they are attempting to follow in the footsteps of loving, caring and kind individuals who came before them, you may be a bit disappointed in Jon’s behavior.  The phrase “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” comes very quickly back to mind when seeing Jon in action.

I enjoyed this movie.  It was a bit slow paced for its 80+ minutes.  Certainly, it was sad in parts and even morose in others.  But it was realistic in the sense that Samuel was just as flawed a character as the people he encounters – he makes some very snarky comments and other outbursts that do not make him a tragic hero, saint or angel in my book.

The movie also begs many questions, such as:  was Samuel/David running from something, and this explains the need to change his name and also to take a very mundane, cash-only job?  Was he hiding from himself and his past choices?  Or in the alternative, was he making a life affirming change that included shedding his past name and identity?

In the beginning of the movie, Samuel announces that he is an atheist.  By the end of the movie, and at the urging of Jon and other more well-meaning parishioners, Samuel engages in the born-again- rite- of- passage of denouncing his past in front of the whole church congregation and affirming his love of Jesus and women.  Certainly, the issue of sexuality is raised throughout the movie, and we are never really told explicitly that Samuel is gay.  When Jon accuses Samuel of being gay (by calling him a “faggot” and also “sick”), Samuel replies “I’m as sick as they come.”

In the end, Samuel/David finds himself walking down a road, alone, in need of choosing yet another path for himself.  To me, the look on his face is more contemplative than upset or frustrated, and perhaps that speaks volumes about where the director wanted the movie to end.

Copyright© 2011-2013 by Brenda L. Hardy. All rights reserved. The material contained within these pages is the sole property of Brenda L. Hardy. All rights to copy, reproduce, publish or alter this material in any way are reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written consent.

My apologies for not writing much in the past few months

These past few months have been consumed with my daughter’s college applications, financial aid and upcoming graduation from high school.  I apologize for not writing more, and sincerely hope to get back on that proverbial horse in the next few months.  I have been busy, as I am sure you have been, too.  Hope you are well.  Take care. Brenda

A Feminist Reviews “Young Adult” (2011)

I love Charlize Theron.  From the doe-eyed innocent wife in “Devil’s Advocate” (1997) to her turn as serial killer Ailene Wuornos in “Monster” (2003) to the struggling single mother/working class gal in “North Country” (2005), Theron is reliable for consistent, searing performances.  That’s one reason that I chose to review “Young Adult.” (2011).  A second reason is that I also  come from a small town (mine is in Michigan), and chose to review this movie as an homage to that type of upbringing.   Like the main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), I left small-town life for urban dwelling and its advantages and many conveniences, but that is really where most of the similarities end.

The movie begins with a female crying as a voice over to a dreary urban scene with bridges.    The crying is not that of the main character, who is sleeping while some reality television show plays in the background as white noise.    Gary receives a picture of a newborn in her email – the significance is that the newborn belongs to her ex-boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).    She prints the picture and stares at it for a long time, and it is this picture that spurs Gray’s quest to return to her tiny hometown and seek out her old boyfriend in an attempt to flex her former Small Town Super Powers.

Gary is a writer, who writes a fictional “young adult” novel loosely based upon her life as the movie opens.  She represents the pretty, once popular, small-town princess who escapes from small-town life and currently lives in a high-rise apartment in the city and has a Pomeranian named “Dolce.”   Gray is lured back to that small town, Mercury, Minnesota, when urban life in her late 30s is not all that it is supposed to be:  in fact, she’s recovering from a failed marriage, is a self described “alcoholic” and suffers from trichotillomania, which is a disease in which one pulls out their hair under stress.   She returns to the life of barns and hay bales and small-town gossip momentarily to try to find out where her life went wrong and/or what is missing.  While her initial quest seems to get back with her old boyfriend, Slade, even though he is married with a newborn, the importance of her return is really more than that.

Upon return to that small town, Gary bumps into a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswald), in a bar.  Freehauf and Gary had formerly only brushed shoulders when they shared locker space in high school.  They did not run in the same social circles.  Gary remembers Freehauf as the victim of a hate crime when some football players beat up Freehauf mercilessly because they thought he was gay.  The violence has rendered him forever on crutches and suffering, and later it is subtly suggested that she may have originated the idea of his homosexuality by calling him a “theater fag” to others.

If you’re looking for sentimentality or regret from Gary, for this act or any others, you will be woefully denied!

Somehow, Freehauf becomes Gary’s confidante and social partner.  Things have really changed in the nearly twenty years that they have been out of high school.    They stalk Slade outside his home late at night, eating bon bons and drinking.

Gary is the text book definition of a narcissist – one who thinks that her ex-boyfriend’s new wife is merely his “rebound” person from her.  Everything – past, present and future – revolves around her.   She reminds a sales lady at the local mall how good she still looks, and in the bookstore attempts to sign all the books she ghost wrote, currently on the clearance rack, but is thwarted by the sales boy who says they can’t return them to the publisher if they are signed.  Clearly, her Super Powers have waned.  In one scene, she is called “psychotic prom queen bitch” by friends of Slade’s wife.   While writing, she has her fictional character, Kendall, proclaim, “beauty and popularity did not inspire much loyalty.”

The oddest scene involves Gary and Freehauf  jealousy over the popularity of Gary’s “crippled” cousin, Mike.  It’s clear that they are both demented.

We don’t end up liking Gary during the movie or even at the end.  I was fine with that.  This was not a journey where we see an individual go through immense spiritual growth or change.  We are merely introduced to a narcissist’s mind and their subsequent pain.  We see the way a narcissist views life, including how all the players in their life are merely props for their own use and experience.  It was a slice-o-narcissist life.  Nothing more.  Engaging nonetheless.

Written by Diablo Cody of “Juno” (2007) fame and directed by “Juno” director, Jason Reitman.  Recommended.

Copyright© 2011-2013 by Brenda L. Hardy. All rights reserved. The material contained within these pages is the sole property of Brenda L. Hardy. All rights to copy, reproduce, publish or alter this material in any way are reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written consent.

Things I Learned from Watching MTV’s “Jersey Shore” With My Teenage Daughter

For those of you who may not have seen even a snippet of this show (I call you one of the “lucky ones”), “Jersey Shore” is one of those pseudo-reality shows on MTV.  Remember when MTV used to just show music videos?  That makes two of us, and according to my daughter, we are apparently very old for having these memories.  “Jersey Shore” follows the escapades of 8 alleged Italian-American kids (I say “alleged” because my Italian friend, Maria, claims that one of the girls is of Peruvian descent) as they drink, dance, fight, demean themselves and others,  and generally cavort around New Jersey and other locations as determined by MTV.

I didn’t think at my age that I could really learn that much, but “Jersey Show” has definitely taught me a few things:

1.   Girl fights are now considered a rite of passage;

2.  The word “bitch” is a synonym for the word “female”;

3.  One-night stands are the new “Love Story”;

4.  Intoxication makes people look even more unintelligent than their natural proclivities previously dictated;

5.  Tanned bodies + steroid use (juice?) + no sense of shame = a lot of money for MTV;

6.  30-year-olds have no business being so goal-less;

7.  Having a nickname does not make a person more endearing;

8.  Public urination and intoxication are as common in New Jersey as biking and hiking are in Colorado;

9.  The verb “to smash” has a whole new meaning other than to make something compact;

10.  There’s a dearth of good programming on TV;

11.  I’m glad I live in Colorado.

Copyright© 2011-2013 by Brenda L. Hardy. All rights reserved. The material contained within these pages is the sole property of Brenda L. Hardy. All rights to copy, reproduce, publish or alter this material in any way are reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written consent.

Movie Retro Review: A Feminist Looks Back at “Fun with Dick and Jane” (2005)

Jim Carey plays Dick Harper, and Tea Leoni plays his wife, Jane.  To say that Dick and Jane are uptight and rigid is quite an understatement – during the week,  they look forward to Saturdays when they can have “spontaneous” love making.  They live in an upper middle class neighborhood where everyone is keeping up with the Joneses and can afford to do so, with high-end cars, imported luscious lawns and Hispanic housekeepers/nannies to boot.

Harper is an executive who believes he is given a promotion as the new V.P. of Communications of his company, Globodyne,  due to his hard work and perseverance.  He’s given the promotion by C.F.O. Frank Bascombe (played by my favorite actor, Richard Jenkins, veteran of many Farralley brothers’ and Coen brothers’ movies) and by company CEO, Jack McCallister (played superbly by Alec Baldwin, who plays this rogue/scoundrel sweetly and with a southern accent).  Dick’s wife, Jane, works as a travel agent and quits her job in light of her husband’s promotion.

However, Harper’s promotion is a sham, and he’s used as a scapegoat on a financial show, Money Life, to provide the company’s false financial projections.  Harper is confronted with the company’s shenanigans on this show by the show’s host, and also by Ralph Nader.  The company tanks, and so does Dick and Jane’s upper-middle-class world.  They are forced to downsize to the extreme, and there are so many priceless scenes regarding their downsized lives, loss of material possessions (did you know that lawn can be repossessed?) and attempts at finding any type of work to pay the bills.

This is a fun romp of a movie, and very timely now given the nosedive in the economy and further layoffs suffered by both working class and executives alike. It’s a well crafted story and script, co-written by Judd Apatow and one of his funnier endeavors.  Some of the scenes are perfect for Carey’s physical humor.  Leoni keeps up with him quite well.  It’s not exactly a happily-ever-after ending, but it is a good one if you like making those in power responsible for their actions.

Recommended.

Copyright© 2011-2014 by Brenda L. Hardy. All rights reserved. The material contained within these pages is the sole property of Brenda L. Hardy. All rights to copy, reproduce, publish or alter this material in any way are reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written consent.

Movie Retro Review: A Feminist Looks Back at Three Early Hitchcock Classics

I would be remiss if I did not review a Hitchcock movie or two – so I will give you reviews of three Hitchcock movies.  Not “North by Northwest” (1959) or “Vertigo”(1958) or Rear Window (1954) or Psycho (1960), as all of these are classics which have far more reviews written and are more readily available to rent.  Prior to his most famous works of the late 1950s, Hitchcock was a prolific director in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.  I am reviewing three of Hitchcock’s early movies –  ones that clearly made him famous in his home country of England.

I rented a collection of Hitchcock movies called “Alfred Hitchcock:  The Legend Begins,” which is a set of four DVDs containing 20 of his early works, with such intriguing titles as “Champagne” (1928 – silent movie –if you like watching the idle rich drink and smoke all day, hang out on cruise ships and change clothes often, you will like this movie), “Blackmail,”(1929), “Juno and the Paycock,” (1930) and “The Lady Vanishes,” (1938).  I will be reviewing the following three movies from this collection:

1.   “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934)

This movie struck my interest, mostly because it featured Peter Lorre, who I find incredibly interesting to watch.   He’s not the main character, but a curious key character.

A family (husband, wife, daughter and dog) vacations in Switzerland, and they are having lavish and lovely upper-middle class time.  Skiing is involved and so are fancy dances replete with ball gowns and tuxes.  A family friend is shot at such a dance, and as he dies he tells the vacationing wife to get to the British consulate after revealing some other details.  There’s kidnapping, extortion and suspense.

Lorre is young, giggly, has a bleached streak in his hair and is as weird as ever.

Two interesting features of this movie deal with women:  Hitchcock allows one to be shot and killed (which must have been risqué for the time) and he allows another to take a crucial action that makes all the difference in the movie (I can’t describe the action or this will be a spoiler).  I wouldn’t say that Hitchcock is a feminist, but I will say that he probably liked to shock people with the unexpected, and he used women in his films to this end.

This movie is black and white, and will only take up 76 minutes of your time.  It’s a good primer for movie buffs.  We truly have come a long way  in movie production, but I can tell you, from  the dialogue, story, acting and camera work of this movie, that Hitchcock well earned his title as a preeminent director.  Hitchcock captures Swiss/Italian Alps and scenes of city night life.  A key scene toward the end takes places at the Royal Albert Hall.  Hitchcock was gifted, even when working with a more limited palette.

Hitchcock himself remade this movie in 1956 starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day and set in Morocco instead of Switzerland and with a son instead of a daughter.  I will definitely be renting that, too. Stay tuned.

The 1934 version is highly recommended.

2.   “39 Steps” (1935)

The movie starts with some kind of stage show, vaudevillian, a Know-It-All called Mr. Memory who takes a myriad of questions from the audience in the days before “Jeopardy” and Wikipedia.    This guy’s a walking encyclopedia, and people pay him to answer their questions.  “How far is Winnipeg from Montreal?” asks main character, Hannay (played by Robert Donat, who has an Errol Flynn-like quality), and the Mr. Memory answers correctly.

Then, however, a fight ensues in the hall.  Shots are heard.  The crowd takes off.

A woman asks Hanny if she can go home with him – very forward for 1935.  She has a German accent and calls herself “Schmidt.” (Smith)  Like a typical male, he lets her go home with him without asking too many questions.  He’s a Canadian visiting from Montreal, and she goes to his place and takes a drink.  She admits that she was the one who fired the shot at the show, and that mysterious men were trying to kill her.  She tells him a secret – have you ever heard of the 39 steps? (the action of telling a secret is a theme in Hitchcock movies)  She warns him of a man with a deformed little finger.  She tells him of her plans to go to Scotland, and leaves him with a map.  Apparently she’s some kind of spy.

Then she dies in a very staged death scene.  But now Hannay’s the target of these mysterious men, and he’s on the run.  He gets to Scotland, hooks up with a farming couple, then moves on.  Hannay connects with a woman named Pamela at several important times in the movie.  There is also a key scene at the London Palladium.

The cars are ancient, and it takes them 2 hours to go 40 miles.

The movie is black and white and only 83 minutes.  It’s a harmless watch, and I do like Robert Donat.  Not as good as “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” but still fine in its own right.

3.   “Sabotage” (1936)

This movie, which is based on the novel, “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad, opens to a page in the dictionary – the word sabotage and its meaning, then jumps in time to reveal a true case of sabotage.   Legendary Sylvia Sydney was a surprise to me in this movie.  She has a main role, playing a woman named Mrs. Verloc – she is an American in England, and the wife of a mysterious man, who appears to be up to no good.  Mr Verloc has cold and dark eyes, bushy eyebrows, a suspect accent, and he wears a black hat.   He meets with other men who wear black hats and have equally suspect accents.  Verloc may have some darkness in him, but he’s not as dark as others he’s meeting with at an aquarium and in a bird shop.  It’s clear, though, that Hitchcock likes his villains to exhibit decidedly Eastern European accents (see Peter Lorre).

Together, Mr. and Mrs. Verloc own a cinema, The Bijou, and live with her younger brother, Stevie.   There’s also a greengrocer (as was Hitchcock’s father) named Ted who runs a store by their cinema and plays a chief part in the movie.   Ted gets close too Mrs. Verloc, not in a romantic way at first, but in a very professional way, for reasons that become apparent later.

Again, a woman does something unexpected for 1936 – scandalous, daring.

There’s a bombing on a bus and a murder.  All is not well in London.  There’s also an early cartoon sequence by Walt Disney.  The ending is a bit unsatisfying, but not harmful to the quality of the movie.  Black and white movie; 76 minutes.  I can recommend.

Copyright© 2011-2014 by Brenda L. Hardy. All rights reserved. The material contained within these pages is the sole property of Brenda L. Hardy. All rights to copy, reproduce, publish or alter this material in any way are reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written consent.

Movie Retro Review: A Feminist Looks Back at “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

How many times have I seen this movie?  I really couldn’t tell you.  This is absolutely my all-time favorite movie – directed and co-written by legendary Billy Wilder, who was also the creative force behind “Double Indemnity.” (1944 – see my review).

Like Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard begins at the end, as we see a Hollywood writer, Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) floating face down in the swimming pool of a decrepit mansion.  Then we are taken 6 months before his unseemly end, where Gillis is a failing writer, and his car is about to be repossessed.  He’s dropped by his agent, and his ideas for movies are shot down by movie producers around Hollywood, including Sheldrake and his assistant, Betty Shaefer (played by Nancy Olson).  He’s desperate, thinking of going back to Ohio, when he and his car are chased by those repo men.  In an attempt to elude them, he finds himself serendipitously in the driveway of a Hollywood old-school mansion, as described by Gillis:

It was a great big white elephant of a place, the kind crazy movie people built in the crazy ‘20s.  A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades.  It was like that old woman in Great Expectations — that Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress and her torn veil – taking it out on the world because she’d been given the go-by. . . .

This particular mansion, with its unkept tennis courts and landscaping, and empty pool in the beginning, is owned by an aging Silent Movie star, Norma Desmond (played brilliantly by former Silent Movie star Gloria Swanson).  Gillis recognizes her from her Silent Screen days, and he asks her, “didn’t you used to be big?” to which she responds:

I am big.  It’s the pictures that got small.

Desmond finds out that Gillis is a writer, and she wants him to help her with her overwrought screenplay about historical figure Salome.  He needs the job, and she needs the help, so they seem perfect together.  She asks about his birthday, and when he responds December 21, she says, “I like Sagittarians. You can trust them.”   (My birthday is December 15)  Gillis moves into her apartment over the garage and begins work on the screenplay – “sometimes it’s interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be.”

Out of this working relationship, they somehow form a dysfunctional and damaged personal one.  She, in essence, becomes his sugar mama, as she buys him clothes and accessories, yet longs for more.    He moves into the main house, all the while seeming to protest his independence and assert his dignity.  Is he being bought and paid for – a kept man?  It’s definitely a role reversal pretty much unseen in Hollywood, as typically the female is painted as the gold digger and the man is the sugar daddy.  Desmond is independently wealthy, strong, assertive, unfailing in her belief in herself, but a little demented and demanding.   Hey, we’re all flawed!   She makes a perfect practical feminist.

Real life movie figures show up to grace Sunset Boulevard, including Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton and Hedda Hopper.  Gillis’ friend, Artie Green, is played by a young Jack Webb (who, in this movie, has an uncanny resemblance to Lou Diamond Phillips).  This is a happier, friendlier Webb than I remember from his days on “Dragnet.”

Gillis also runs into Sheldrake’s assistant, Betty Shaefer, at a New Year Eve’s party.  They forge a writing team that turns into more.

What makes this movie so brilliant?  Wilder’s sense of humor, coupled with his insider’s knowledge of Hollywood, with it’s very damaged and egotistic personalities, is a chief reason.    His characters, especially Desmond and Gillis, are flawed yet the viewer still feels empathy for them.  They are human.  Swanson’s acting makes this movie divine!  There’s a great insider’s scene when Desmond visits Paramount Studios to see DeMille about resurrecting her career.

How does Gillis end up in the pool in the opening scene?  You will definitely have to rent this movie to see. The ending of Sunset Boulevard is one of the best in the history of film!  A must see!  Highly recommended.

Copyright© 2011-2014 by Brenda L. Hardy. All rights reserved. The material contained within these pages is the sole property of Brenda L. Hardy. All rights to copy, reproduce, publish or alter this material in any way are reserved. Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without prior written consent.