Movie Review: “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close” (2011)

There is a movie theater by my house that my daughter and I like to attend, as it serves food while you watch the movie.  Today, I went to that theater to watch Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close. When I asked my waitress what she thought about the movie, she said “intense” and “in your face” and “pulls out emotions you’re not ready for.”   Boy, did she sum up the movie for me.  It was essentially an emotional experience.

The movie is based on a book of the same title by Jonathon Safran Foer, and tells the tale of nine-year-old Oskar Schnell (played by newcomer Thomas Horn).  The opening scene is a funeral, and Oskar’s mom (played by Sandra Bullock) is weeping and wearing black.    Oskar calls the funeral a “fake funeral” as there is no body in the casket.  I do not believe it is a spoiler to tell you that his father, Thomas (played by Tom Hanks) dies in the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Oskar and his father were close, and the movie follows young Oskar, who may suffer from Asbergers Syndrome or some other disorder on the Autism spectrum, in the aftermath of his loss. We are privy to his search for meaning after his father’s death and his desire to somehow remain connected to him.    Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet a year after his death, and his search for the key’s significance is the main premise of the movie.    The only clue to the key’s importance is found on the small manila envelope containing the key, which has the word “Black” written on its exterior.

We see plenty of flashbacks involving interaction between Oskar and his father.  This child is obviously stressed out in life.  He’s close to his paternal grandmother, and this was an interesting angle.  After her son’s death, she takes on a mysterious German boarder.

Thomas Horn carries the movie.  This is his first movie, so the feat is quite impressive indeed.  His only other claim to fame prior to Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close is that he won the game show “Jeopardy” during Kid’s Week.  Could Horn be the next Haley Joel Osment?  Perhaps, but I hope his career, if he chooses, lasts beyond adolescence.  Bullock and Hanks have relatively small but potent parts.  Max von Sydow plays the German and Viola Davis plays a pivotal character in Oskar’s search for meaning.  John Goodman plays Stan the Doorman.

Other critics trashed the movie.  The only real problem I had was, as a mother, envisioning allowing my 9 year old to roam one of the biggest cities in the world – New York City- on his own, meeting strangers who may or may not have his best interests at heart.  They tried to neatly address this issue, but it was not taken care of to my satisfaction, as even before his dad’s death, Oskar was allowed free range on other types of treasure/scavenger hunts.  That aspect did not feel genuine, and may have been written by someone who has no children.

I do recommend the movie.  It dealt with difficult and complex feelings through the eyes of a grieving nine-year-old child.  It wasn’t completely realistic to me, but it was engaging and moving nonetheless.

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.

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Movie Retro Review: A Feminist Looks Back at “Jane Eyre” (2011)

This movie is based on the book of the same title, written by Charlotte Bronte, which was published in 1847, the same year that William Makepeace Thackeray published “Vanity Fair.”  (see my review of that movie starring Reese Witherspoon, 2004)  Like Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp, Jane (Elliot) Eyre, (played by Mia Wasikowska), is a governess, but that is where the similarities end.  Eyre is not a manipulative social climber, but rather a girl who has had an equally tough beginning as Sharp.

Initially raised in affluence, Eyre is cast from that leisurely life when her parents and beloved uncle die, and she’s left in the care of an evil aunt (Mrs. Reed).  She’s put out by this aunt, and placed at a young age in a girl’s home with its strict, rigid code and corporeal punishment. As a young girl, Eyre is forced to endure something called the “Pedestal of Infamy” and isolation punishment for petty offenses.    She’s learning “how barren is the life of a sinner.”

Eyre is far more gentle and softer than Sharp, even with the cruelty of her girl’s home.  She doesn’t have Sharp’s physical beauty or cunning or quick wit; in fact, Eyre is thought to be “plain,” but her sweetness possesses a certain allure and she is fiercely intelligent.   Eyre is also a skilled artist.  She also has an ability to hear the wind whisper her name.  Cool.

St. John Rivers (played by Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliot” (2000) fame, although he’s all grown up here) runs a very humble parish, and Eyre is given a cottage and 15 pounds a year, which is quite sparse indeed.  Somehow, though, Eyre ends up with Mrs. Fairfax (played by Dame Judi Dench), house manager of a large estate called Thornfield Hall, owned by the dashing, wealthy and hot Edward Rochester (played by Michael Fassbender).  Eyre has been the governess of Thornfield Hall for about three months in his absence.

She doesn’t meet Rochester at the hall, but rather in the field, on a walk, while his spirited horse throws him in front of her.  Later he playfully accuses her of “bewitching” his horse.  Rochester doesn’t seem to take to Eyre right away – she’s like any of the help on his estate.  He can be rude, cruel, cold and controlling, but he does respect and reward loyalty.   Upon their meeting, Rochester asks Eyre:

What’s your tale of woe?  All governesses have a tale of woe.

Rochester has in residence a young girl who was left in his care.  Maybe he’s just bored with his life, but he does interact with Eyre – he also says he doesn’t want to treat her “inferior.”  He feels they should speak as equals.  At one point, he says he “envies her . . . openness and unpolluted mind.”

There’s a fire and a stabbing and a secret or two.

Lovely authentic costumes and set décor in shades of grays and muted tans and other earth tones.  I have seen several versions of this movie throughout the years, and each had their own attractiveness and draw.  I liked this movie due to the performances of Wasikowska and Fassbender – very believable and enjoyable to watch.

Is this a love story, or a tale of feminist empowerment (Rochester says to her “you are my equal and my likeness”), or a movie of indentured servitude?  You’ll have to rent it to see.

I do 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 “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)

I have already reviewed the 2002 version of “The Magnificent Ambersons”:  now I am ready to tackle the original, the 1942 version, written (based on the Booth Tarkington novel of the same name), directed, produced and narrated by Orson Welles.  I don’t remember the 2002 version having a narrator at all, as does this version, with Welles’ bombing voice.  The 1942 version is in black and white while the 2002 was in color.  The 1942 movie also features the perspective of the neighbors more profoundly in the beginning, exposing their envy over “hot and cold running water” and gossip about Isabel Amberson.

Despite the difference between the two movies, the plotline remains the same.  Isabel and Wilbur are married, and they give birth to George Amberson Minafer, who is still spoiled.  Tim Holt plays George, and he’s more mean that was Jonathon Rhys Meyers in 2002, who gave a better spoiled and bratty performance.

This Isabel, played by Dolores Costello (fun fact:  Costello is Drew Barrymore’s real-life grandmother, married to John Barrymore and mother to Drew’s father), is blonde and not as waify or as demure as Madeleine Stowe’s Isabel.  She lacks a certain necessary fragility that I believe Stowe embodied more effectively for the role.

Anne Baxter plays Lucy Morgan.  This Lucy is wholly enamored with the Amberson name and social status in the beginning, more so than the 2002 Lucy.  I can see why Gretchen Mol was cast in the 2002 version, as she bears a strong resemblance to a young Baxter.  Joseph Cotton, fresh from his role in Citizen Kane, plays Lucy’s dad, Eugene Morgan, who is Isabel’s first and only true love.  I don’t have much to say about his performance here, except that he is present, but it’s not really a substantial role.

Agnes Moorehead plays Aunt Fanny, and she’s so much more believable and appropriately cast than was Jennifer Tilly.  Moorehead’s Aunt Fanny is nastier, angrier, edgier, and ultimately, just as emotionally disturbed.  She has this quirky way of making her voice go up at the most inappropriate times during her performance that I found irritating, but also in some ways explains the casting of Tilly in the 2002 movie.  Moorehead was much colder, less emotionally available as Charles Foster Kane’s mother in Citizen Kane – here she’s more craggy and prone to emotional outbursts.  The 1942 version actually gives us, more fully and overtly, Fanny’s feelings for Eugene Morgan that were more alluded to in the 2002 version.

The 2002 version is very faithful to the original script, although it adds scenes (such as the college graduation and the trip to Europe, among others) that were cut out of Welles’ original screenplay and the 1942 movie by RKO Pictures in the aftermath of the fall out from Citizen Kane.  I never thought I would say this, but I actually recommend the 2002 version over the 1942 version.

Many of the scenes in the 1942 version are too packed and cluttered with objects, I suppose in an attempt to replicate that ostentatious materiality of the Ambersons, but it removes the eye from the important central action of each scene and the dialogue/conversation between the characters.  The black and white of this film also doesn’t work for me.  There are unexplained and unnecessary shadows in many of the scenes.  The 2002 is so much better staged and filmed.  Also, the 1942 version is missing the closeness between George and his mother, Isabel.  In contrast, the 2002 version actually had them as too close in part.  Isabel is a much less central character – in fact, she’s practically absent in the 1942 version, while extraordinarily present in the 2002 movie.  The 1942 version also has a more gothic quality due to the black and white shadowing and the music, while the 2002 is much more dreamy.

Welles announces the credits, not just for the actors, but the other credits, including director, wardrobe, etc…. That was an interesting touch at the end of the movie.  But given a choice between watching the 1942 “The Magnificent Ambersons” and its successor some 60 years later, I will choose the 2002 each time.  Sorry Orson!

Copyright© 2012 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.

Lessons I learned from watching “Tootsie” (1982) and “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)

Lessons I learned from watching “Tootsie” (1982) and “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)

 

A.   Jewish guys make unattractive older ladies;

B.    Older white guys are easily fooled by Jewish guys pretending to be women;

C.   When pretending to be a woman:

1.  Be sure to affect an accent, whether its southern or Scottish or even one that is more arcane – the more outrageous the better as we know that all women everywhere speak in a foreign language;

2.  Keep a girdle on hand, because even though very few women wear girdles these days, it reminds us of a time when women were in bondage to them; now women are just in bondage to starvation, bulimia and over-exercise;

3.  Wear a front tooth bridge to hide those nasty fangs that women like to conceal underneath those veneers;

4.  Wear a dress – frumpy, frilly – even though women rarely wear dresses, even in business, as suits are now the norm, dresses remind us of how a woman can still be feminine;

5.  Don high heels, and continually complain about them – no one will hear you, as they are still regarded as haute coutre by those “Sex and the City” devotees, but complain nonetheless because its funny to think that something will actually change;

6.  Pretend to primp and care if your butt looks too big in the mirror – body image and insecurity is in women is a big joke and a stretch for men as they are thought not to have the same issues.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that it is funny when guys dress up as females and carry a movie, but it is not so much when women attempt to do the same.

Copyright© 2012 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 “Vanity Fair” (2004)

If, like me, you love a beautifully constructed period piece, with lavish costumes, hair and makeup, and brilliantly adorned sets steeped in the accoutrements of history, then you will not be disappointed by watching this movie.  If, however, you also like a story in which the main character is a female to whom you can relate, and for whom you can also find compassion and empathy, you might, like me, be torn.

“I had thought her a mere social climber; I can see now she’s a mountaineer!” speaking of Sharp

The movie begins in 1802, and Reese Witherspoon plays Rebecca “Becky” Sharp, a 19th century social climber/gold digger and girl who is left at a girl’s home when both of her parents die.  Her father had been a painter and her mother a singer.  When Sharp comes of age, she leaves the home with her best friend, Amelia Sedley, and becomes a governess in the English countryside. She has no dowry or money, but what she does have is her intelligence, survival skills and drive to succeed.  Her strengths are “music, drawing and French,” as well as cunning mind, a gift for mimicry and a wicked smile.

Jonathon Rhys Meyers plays George Osborne (just two years after playing George Amberson), a social climber in his own right, a Captain in the British military who courts Amelia but looks down on Sharp as she is a governess – the class system is alive and well in 19th century England.   But Osborne is only a tradesman’s son and not of royal pedigree – isn’t always the ones toward the bottom that make it harder on the others beneath them?   Osborne talks his future brother-in-law, Amelia’s brother, out of courting Becky.  Ouch.

After this scene, Sharp lands another governess gig with the lecherous Sir Pitt Crawley, played by Bob Hoskins, to teach his two younger girls with his second wife.  Crawley has a wealthy spinster sister, Matilda, and a handsome son from a first wife, Rawdon (played by James Purefoy).  Sharp sets her sights on Rawdon while she gets close to Matilda.

Matilda loves her clever mind, and takes Sharp to London with Rawdon in tow.  Sharp leads Matilda to believe she’s an “impoverished aristocrat” from her mother’s side, when her mother was really a chorus girl!  However, she clearly does not understand the rules of aristocratic society:  when Sharp announces to Pitt and Matilda that she’s married Rawdon, she and her small fashion trunk initialed “RS” are kicked to the curb!  Seems it was fine to be close to the clever Ms. Sharp at an arms length, but the Crawley family, snobs that they are, have no desire for her to marry into them.  Now she’s called a “pauper’s daughter, a penniless governess.”

Matilda has a mysterious neighbor, the Marquess of Steyne (played by Gabriel Byrne) who plays a substantial role later in the plot.

Based on the novel of the same title by William Makepeace Thackeray, this movie explores the strange world where class dominates each social decision.  It’s a visually lovely movie which exposes the damage of snobbery and personal decisions based upon money and title rather than love and compassion.  I don’t think of Sharp as a complete and utter social climber without capacity for love of Rawdon.   It is Sharp who may actually ask the most important question in the movie, “Doesn’t anyone love me for myself alone?”  Always remember that Becky Sharp is a female character written by a man, and it shows!

Recommended.

Copyright© 2012 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 “Sylvia” (2003)

Most of us know a little bit about the life of tortured poet Sylvia Plath, who lived a mere 30 years (1932-63), yet left two small children and a profound poetic legacy in her wake.  We’ve all heard of her mental illness, suicide attempts and final irrevocable act.  This film provides a snippet of her life – from her days at Cambridge while on a Fulbright Scholarship in the ‘50s, to her meeting Ted Hughes (future British Poet Laureate) and subsequent marriage to him, to her travails in the early sixties as the result of her emotional issues and their corrosive union.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia, and Daniel Craig plays her poetic rival and romantic lead, Ted Hughes.  The movie is as much about him as it is about her – they could have called this “Sylvia and Ted” – except that throughput the movie we are exposed to more of Sylvia’s internal workings through her feelings, foibles and perceptions.  Hughes the Character remains more stoic, less exposed, somewhat tolerant and almost a victim to her emotional proclivities. There is an unmistakable, intoxicating draw between the two nonetheless – kindred sensitive and damaged poetic spirits that attract and revel like two opposite magnets.

Sylvia is honest with Ted in the beginning about her desire to die and suicide attempts  – “did you ever have something you wanted to erase?” she asks Hughes, leading us to believe that something happened to her in her childhood (abuse?).   Later she says “I was always happy until I was nine years old . . . then my father died.”

“You’ve got to write – that’s what poets do,” Ted advises Sylvia when she encounters writer’s block.  Hughes lived in a man’s world which accepted male poetic inspiration as pure destiny and genius, which rendered him rock star status, while Plath lived in that man’s world, too, with its heightened criticism and rejection of female artistry.  Young girls wearing red lip stick appear on their doorstep, offering themselves and their poetry for Hughes’ review.

I write poetry, too, but mine poems are invisible, insignificant, minute compared to the work of these titans.  Jealous of their literary work?  Perhaps.   Jealous of the lives?  Never.

I would like to see a movie that really focuses on Plath and keeps Hughes as a peripheral character, but I doubt that movie will be made.  Perhaps it cannot be made.  Her life was brief, and he was an integral character in her adulthood.

Recommended.

Plath wrote the poem below a month before my birth:

Lady Lazarus
by Sylvia Plath
I have done it again.One year in every tenI manage it–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,

My right foot

A paperweight,

My face a featureless, fine

Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin

O my enemy.

Do I terrify?–

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be

At home on me

And I a smiling woman.

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.

The peanut-crunching crowd

Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot–

The big strip tease.

Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.

The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.

I rocked shut

As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying

Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.

There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart–

It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or a touch

Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

So, so, Herr Doktor.

So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash–

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Beware

Beware.

Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.

23-29 October 1962

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/cultural-capital/2010/10/hughes-poem-poet-publish

Copyright© 2012 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 “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992)

As a feminist, I normally like to rail against movies that only feature males in lead roles (or where the female leads have to disrobe or embody and exude the bitch quality).  However, this movie is an exception to my usual protests.    The main characters in this movie are conniving, thieving, angry, sociopathic, self pitying, and would steal their own grandmother’s life savings at first chance.  I say, just this once, let these characters be inhabited by males!

The movie opens with two real estate salesmen, Shelley Levene (played by Jack Lemmon) and Dave Moss (played by Ed Harris) complaining to their boss, John Williamson (played by Kevin Spacey in his usual aloof, angry, arrogant role) about their meager, “weak” and unsubstantial sales “leads.”

Alec Baldwin appears early in the film, but only briefly, in the role of “Blake,” the tough, rough-talking, cigarette-smoking sales manager from “downtown.”  Blake to Shelley Levene:

“Put that coffee down.  That coffee’s for closers only.”

When asked what his name is by Moss, Blake responds “I drive an $80,000 BMW, that’s what my name is.”  He claims to have made $970,000 the previous year, further states that his watch costs more than Moss’ car and he doesn’t care if any of them are a good father or a nice guy.  It’s a performance that Ben Affleck would attempt to replicate just eight years later, marginally, as the same type of sales pusher in “Boiler Room.”(2000)   Baldwin is the original.  His mantra – Always Be Closing. “You close or you hit the bricks.”

I’m sold.   This is the best scene in the movie, and one of my favorite all-time movie scenes.   A bigger, badder  prick you will never find!  I also like the brass balls that he pulls out of his briefcase and uses as a demonstration prop.  Priceless.  Did Baldwin keep those brass balls? I wonder.

Closers get the best leads, the Glengarry leads.  Enter Ricky Roma (played by Al Pacino). He does so well that he wasn’t even subjected to the Blake/Baldwin rant.  He was at a bar somewhere drinking and pontificating about life and closing with a big fish.   He’s got a broken moral compass and he’s proud of it.  He’s a hot head and in love with the “F” bomb.

Even though this is clearly an ensemble cast, I think of Shelley Levene as the main character.  His glory sales days are well behind him, and now he’s forced to try to make a living from dribble leads.  He negotiates with Williamson to get the leads to no avail.  He’s certainly desperate for the right leads and the money as his daughter is in the hospital. Heart wrenching.  Harris and Alan Arkin have nice turns as less-desperate but more deviant co-workers.

There’s a robbery.  There’s client badgering.  There are lies and pressure applied.

David Mamet wrote the screenplay based on his play.  It probably did work effectively as a play, with dramatic lighting and sparse settings and character-driven plot. I certainly had sympathy for the Levene character, and that character was aptly constructed to evoke such, and the movie is fine as a brief character study into the lives of men that we have no desire to relate to or emulate.

It’s a good movie to watch on a boring Sunday, if only for that precious scene by Baldwin.

Copyright© 2012 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.