Political content in some of this week’s new dvds: Crazy Heart, The Young Victoria, The Lovely Bones, Peacock, Mammoth, Surviving Crooked Lake…
1. Crazy Heart (2009) [Rated R for language and brief sexuality.]
summary at imdb.com:
A faded country music musician is forced to reassess his dysfunctional life during a doomed romance that also inspires him.
starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Beth Grant, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall
John Nolte at Big Hollywood
John P. Hanlon at Big Hollywood
James Bowman at the American Spectator
movieguide.org Christian reviews
Poli-Bits: no leftist content…
Bad Blake: Now I’m playin’ a f####n’ bowling alley backed by a bunch of hippies
2. The Young Victoria (2009) [Rated PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of violence, and brief incidental language and smoking.]
summary at imdb.com:
A dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria’s rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert.
starring: Emily Blunt, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent
There’s a reason Queen Victoria, who ruled Great Britain from 1837 to 1901, inspired one of the Kinks’ most joyous songs: The band’s 1969 “Victoria” opens with the words “Long ago life was clean/Sex was bad and obscene,” a recognition of England’s stuffy, repressive past that sounds like a rebuke — until the point, in the next verse, where the songwriting brothers Ray and Dave Davies declare, with irony-free affection, “I was born, lucky me/In a land that I love.” Victoria, the country’s longest-reigning queen, spent much of the 19th century getting her country ready for the 20th, preparing, unwittingly but dutifully, for two destructive and horrific wars, for the collapse of the empire she herself helped build, even for free love and rock ‘n’ roll. No wonder the Kinks loved all she represented, flaws and attributes alike. [...] And Vallée doesn’t focus just on the love angle: He lays out with clarity the various political machinations and frustrations — including scandals, assassination attempts and complicated decisions with potentially dire consequences — the young queen had to face. Vallée and Fellowes make it clear Victoria was a tough-minded, self-determined woman with a job to do, not a dainty maiden waiting for her handsome prince. [...] That’s not to say Victoria and Albert don’t have their problems. Vallée gives a sense of their clashes and of the ways in which Victoria sometimes felt, at the beginning, that her authority was being undermined by her husband. But the picture overall gives a sense of a partnership that was surprisingly modern
from an interview with actress Emily Blunt:
Lisa Crispignani Rizzo (Facebook Fan): While preparing for this role were you surprised by any of Queen Victoria’s accomplishments?
Emily: I was surprised by, actually what her and Albert did together. They did such incredible feats for social reform and the arts and sciences and architecture and poverty. I think for me I was surprised on a whole like what they managed to achieve and how they went against tradition and wanted to make things better. There was a real need to make things better and I loved that about them. They were courageous in that way.
He’s Victoria’s suitor, a sweet, capable guy, who actually likes Victoria for herself, which would not be easy under the best of circumstances. With Blunt playing her as bratty and 21st century, it’s even harder.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s film (written by Julian Fellowes), The Young Victoria, is a very handsome picture deserving of every credit for its respectful posture towards the past and especially towards royalty, which it would have been easy for it to have patronized.
Albert: I believe we have a duty to those in need of our protection. It is the business of every sovereign to champion the dispossessed, for no one else will. Take housing. May I show you? Industry is expanding so fast that people are not considering where the workers will live. But I’ve been experimenting. By building these units of two, you can build safe, clean homes for two families for less than the cost… I’m sorry. I don’t mean to preach…
Victoria: No, there’s no need to apologize for being passionate. It seems I have a lot to learn. With all my duties, and I do take them very seriously.
Albert: I know you do.
** In the public mind, the leader of the Conservative Opposition is their pet hero, Napoleon’s conqueror, the grand old Duke of Wellington.
** But not in fact.
** No. [...] The next Tory Prime Minister will be Sir Robert Peel.
** Which side does Victoria favor?
** She’s a Liberal. Above all, she favors Lord Melbourne.
written on the screen before the ending credits:
Among their accomplishments, Victoria and Albert championed reforms in education, welfare, and industry.
3. The Lovely Bones (2009) [Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.]
summary at imdb.com:
Centers on a young girl who has been murdered and watches over her family – and her killer – from heaven. She must weigh her desire for vengeance against her desire for her family to heal.
starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Michael Imperioli, Amanda Michalka
from Sonny Bunch:
Yes, the mother goes to California (where she serves as a noble migrant worker, or some such),
from John Nolte:
Jackson’s film is a serious one dealing with big themes involving child murder and grief and justice and the afterlife. But incredibly, dropped right in the middle of all this harrowing drama, is a flat-out comedy montage straight out of a Chris Columbus movie that has Susan Sarandon’s grandmother-character fumbling and stumbling about like Uncle Buck with the household chores, including — yes! — an out-of-control washing machine. Better yet, it’s all set to a pop song.
The best scenes in The Lovely Bones are not the fantasy but the East Coast cornfields and claustrophobic domestic life in the clapboard suburbs of the Seventies.
4. Peacock (2010) [Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material and a scene of violence.]
summary at imdb.com:
A train accident in rural Nebraska gradually unveils a mystery involving the town’s bank clerk
starring: Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon, Josh Lucas, Cillian Murphy, Bill Pullman, Keith Carradine
Poli-Bits: “Peacock touches on some touchy subjects such as child abuse, cross dressing, prostitution, insanity” as well as a Senate campaign and women’s independence
from a user review at imdb.com:
it’s set in a not too distant rural America where the oddities of life must be kept well hidden for one to survive.
from Christian Toto:
A local politican (Keith Carradine) wants to use the derailed train setting as the backdrop for a fundraiser, which pits Emma against John in a battle that, while intriguing, never coalesces into something dramatically unique.
John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy, Sunshine) is a quiet, reclusive man living in Peacock, Nebraska, during the 1950s. Most people in Peacock know who John is, but they’re all pretty curious about what sort of life he leads when he isn’t working at the local bank. He’s just so quiet and shy; he won’t say much of anything to anyone. One day, a train flies off the rails and crashes in John’s yard. A woman happens to be in the yard at the time, and she quickly runs into the house when people start running up to survey the accident. A handful of people assume that this is John’s never-before-seen wife. What they don’t know is that the woman was actually John himself…or rather, his alternate personality. Her name is Emma, an equally shy and quiet woman largely modeled after John’s late mother. When John switches from one personality to the other, the one he leaves behind remains unconscious of what is going on with the other one. As time passes and more people grow curious about the relationship between John and the mysterious woman in his house, the personalities begin to clash. John wants to continue hiding and keeping to himself, but Emma secretly yearns to be a liberated woman. Which side will prevail in this inner conflict?
5. Mammoth (2009) [Not Rated]
summary at imdb.com:
While on a trip to Thailand, a successful American businessman tries to radically change his life. Back in New York, his wife and daughter find their relationship with their live-in Filipino maid changing around them. At the same time, in the Philippines, the maid’s family struggles to deal with her absence.
starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams
wow… talk about your leftist guilt-trip movie… you know it’s bad when even Ebert has problems with it…
a child in the poverty-stricken Philippines ventures into the dangerous child-prostitution section of town at night in order to make some money because he misses his mommy who is forced to work as a nanny in Amerika because the wealthy exploitative Amerikan couple are too busy exploitating the third world to spend time with their daughter… (the boy ends up being hospitalized, by the way, after following some man who then apparently rapes him)
sleazy American guys pawing at the prostitutes in Thailand…
“Third World poverty and the consequences of global capitalism”
“a Thai bar-girl named Cookie, who represents yet another unsavory aspect of the exploitative relationship between the West and the Third World – prostitution.”
“Yes, we know about the West’s exploitation of the Third World in the name of globalisation. Yes, we know that it is the children who suffer as a result. And yes, we know that we are all implicated on some level.”
“Mammoth makes a call for a new, globalized family unit and then mourns its failure to materialize.”
Our health-care system rests, to a sizable degree, upon the shoulders of Filipino doctors, nurses, patient-care specialists and caregivers. There is a reason for this. Medical schools in the Philippines produce many graduates who take such jobs in North America, where there is a perennial shortage.
One of the central stories in “Mammoth” involves a Filipino nanny who cares for rich children in Manhattan while her own children at home live in relative poverty and tell her on the phone how much they miss her. The film intends to make us feel guilty that such people care for us and not for their own. I don’t buy that. At least in the case of the Filipinos I’ve known, they worked hard to win jobs over here, are sending much of their income home, are saving to bring over their kids and are urging them to get an education to help them find jobs when they get here. It certainly helps that English is one of the national languages.
In a world of massive inequality, they’re at least taking those direct measures available to them to improve their family situations. Only superficial thinking about global reality would lead a Swedish-born director like Lukas Moodysson to offer the sentimental simplifications in “Mammoth,” which cuts back and forth between a lucky American kid at a planetarium and her nanny’s children telling her they love her in a phone call. This is hard, but it’s harder to be unable to feed your children or offer them a future. [...]
If Leo weren’t rich maybe he’d be back home where he’s needed.
His wife, Ellen, is a surgeon specializing in pediatrics, which brings her into touch with a young patient who –but you can guess how this world simply isn’t fair. There are so many reasons to be outraged and depressed by this film, indeed, that it all but distracts from the real and immediate qualities of the four fine actors. [...]
“Mammoth” is a perfectly decent film. Too bad it isn’t more thoughtful. It’s easy to regret misfortune if all you do is regret it.
Swedish director takes us on a guilt trip around the world
While mom selflessly serves as an E.R. surgeon at an inner city hospital, dad signs multimillion-dollar deals as the founder of a hotshot video game company. All of this activity leaves little Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) to be raised by the family’s saintly Filipino nanny, Gloria (Marife Necesito). Gloria treats Jackie as if she were her own—ironic, considering Gloria has abandoned her own two sons back in Manila to earn a better living here in the U.S.
Although each of the film’s characters are connected, they act as if they’re in separate movies, spinning out in their own wide orbits and rarely interacting face-to-face. Mom wades elbow-deep in blood and domestic abuse working late nights in the E.R. Each troubling case seems to reinforce the knowledge that she’s become increasingly estranged from her daughter. Dad, meanwhile, is halfway around the world in Thailand working on a major business deal and trying to stay in touch with his family via cell phone. Over in the Philippines, Gloria’s preteen sons are becoming increasingly unhappy with their mother’s absence, unable to see the bright future she envisions for them all.
There are times when the story meanders. Leo’s story segment about meeting and interacting with a prostitute in Bangkok takes a particularly long time to fire up. Is this a story about inequality? About economic exploitation of poor Third World nations by rich Americans? Is the Vidales family irresponsible for entrusting the day-to-day rearing of their only child to a relative stranger? Should they give Gloria the boot, quit their breakneck jobs and do the work themselves? Is Gloria a good parent for sacrificing so much to give her kids a better life? Or is she a bad parent for trading close proximity for a big payroll? Moodysson seems to waffle. Perhaps he finds merit in both arguments. That’s logical of him, but not very dramatic.
Despite its rather artificial construction and its heavy pall of upper-middle-class white guilt, [...] A scene in which Gloria’s mom drags her grandson to a (very real) Philippine dump for a tragic object lesson hits home as hard as anything Moodysson’s done.
Off on a business trip to Bangkok, Leo is eager for adventure, settling on an island paradise locale, soon tempted by Cookie (Run Srinikornchot), a sultry prostitute who awakens Leo’s sense of Western shame. [...] The title comes from a specific perversion of nature and prosperity, where Leo is offered a pen adorned with mammoth ivory, kick-starting the gaming wizard’s spiritual challenges in Bangkok, where he feels tremendous discomfort with his wealth, especially around Cookie and his projection of third world struggle upon her.
The relationship between American families and their foreign maids is a subject that has been tackled in a variety of previous indie pictures, from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel” to Todd Solondz’s “Storytelling.” Yet in “Mammoth,” the English-language debut from Swedish-born filmmaker Lukas Moodysson, the material is dealt with in a refreshingly humanistic way, devoid of sensationalism (the story concludes with neither deportation nor asphyxiation).
[...] this film delves into considerably darker waters, exploring the connection between globalization and alienation. A more fitting title may have been, “Apart.”
Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams play Leo and Ellen Vidales, an exceedingly photogenic couple in New York, who share an expensive apartment, an adorable daughter, and next to no time with each other. The film opens just as Leo is heading out on a business trip to Thailand. Ellen is constantly preoccupied with her demanding job at a hospital, and routinely places her daughter, Jackie (Sophie Nyweide), in the care of her Filipino maid, Gloria (Marife Necesito). The ever-widening void that develops between Ellen and Jackie mirrors the literal separation Gloria has from her own children, who are still living in the Philippines. Gloria took the job in America so she could eventually afford a house for her family, but the prolonged time of her absence is beginning to take a toll on her kids, particularly Salvador (Jan Nicdao). Meanwhile, in Thailand, Leo finds himself with unexpected time on his hands, and becomes drawn to a bar girl (Run Srinikornchot), whose need to support her own child has led her to a life of prostitution.
The key theme connecting these story threads is a sort of self-defeating parental sacrifice. All of these characters are going to great lengths in order to provide for their family. Their unending quest for money has created a chasm separating them from the very people they’re striving to support. [...] Yet Moodysson is smart enough to know that a mammoth problem like globalization couldn’t possibly be solved or satisfyingly “wrapped up” in a two hour drama. He has created a deft portrait of a world out of balance, where the vital and intimate act of parenting can be commodified.
In an effort to show Salvador that things aren’t so bad, Gloria’s mother takes him on a tour of the mean streets of the city and to see a garbage dump where people scrounge for food and other valuables.
Has an auteur ever turned on his characters and the worldview they triumph as sharply and definitively as Lukas Moodysson? The Euro-pop feel-goodisms of his debut and sophomore productions may have been, in hindsight, an aesthetic blind alley (an emotionally mature film about a ramshackle socialist co-op that miraculously manages to eschew both quirky familial clichés and carpe diem bromides while still remaining impressively uplifting is a hell of an act to follow) [...]
here, matronly confrontation is used not to gradually whittle characters with unnervingly detailed psyches, but to insist upon types that individuals involuntarily embody within the tortuous emotional web of Western exploitation. In particular, the decision to heavy-handedly depict rather than excruciatingly imply the penurious details of Gloria’s outsourced labor—she sends her wages home toward the building of a new family house while her mother and children weep bitterly in their third-world alienation—overshadows the New York and Thailand threads with pitifully manipulative, slumdog squalor. [...]
the gratuitous dose of “reality” provided by a clumsily foreshadowed act of child rape in Mammoth suggests that no matter one’s economic stratum, most interpretations of “dedicated parenting” are likely to be tested and brutally chastised by social circumstance.
[...] In the film’s feverishly antiseptic hospital sequences, Ellen’s failures as an urban mother impel her to selfishly invest emotion in the damaged youths that pass through her ward, an attempt at foraging self-worth dismally doomed to crumble every time that the fatalistic crossfire of the streets outside intervenes. And though the all-but-unspoken duel for the flighty favor of Ellen’s daughter between Gloria and Ellen herself veers dangerously close to Spanglish-grade race-relations myopia, the petulant exchanges displaying the limbo of their half-business, half-personal relationship are laced with reluctant bitterness and embarrassed jaundice. When Ellen softly scolds Gloria for “distracting” Jackie with her patient tutorials on Filipino culture, Williams deftly digs into the subtle scorn of a deservedly spurned matriarch (she later, of course, is overcome with regret over the incident; after all, why should we feel guilty for outsourcing parental duties?).
[...] the cyclical nature of Mammoth is intended as a critique of the specious complacency of American domesticity despite the turmoil of emotions we share with—and we thrust upon—the less fortunate.
Get Pummeled by Global Guilt-Tripping with Mammoth
English, Tagalog, and Thai are spoken in Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth, but he communicates only in the idiom of Crash and Babel: the Esperanto of feel-bad humanism. [...] Unspeakable things happen to children in Mammoth, too, though mostly off-screen—and solely as the result of outrageously overdetermined symmetries between First World privilege and Third World misery.
Instead, we’re treated a remarkably subtle exploration of family in a time of capitalism.
Additionally, Leo finds himself giving into the temptations Thailand has to offer to the foreigner with cash in hand. The movie quickly turns into a depressing story of relationships both developed and torn apart by the affects of consumption. “Mammoth” has been compared to “Babel” and it does seem that similar elements of the film are found in the interrelated relationships formed across an economic and global map, [...]
We watch as Ellen works extremely long hours in the E.R., and witnesses her daughter emotionally detach from her. Sophie finds a new mother in Gloria, who provides more consistent, hands-on nurturing. Leo takes up a beach bungalow because he is so horribly bored of staying in his 5-star hotel while waiting to sign documents for a multi-million dollar deal. He decides to make friends with other tourists who take advantage of the local treasures and ends up at a lounge where he meets a prostitute, Cookie. As his mighty American hero side emerges, he insists on giving Cookie a large chunk of money with the promise that she not work the rest of the night. This must have felt morally invigorating because Leo later calls his wife and leaves a message saying that when he gets back, he wants to start doing charity work (the beautiful irony continues when he does end up sleeping with Cookie).
This does, in fact, seem to be a message of the movie. Americans can solve guilt by paying the right person. Ellen finally has a night off from work, so she plans a special pizza-making dinner for her and her daughter, but Sophie was looking forward to attending the Filipino church with Gloria and sulks until she gets her way. The next day, Ellen brings home an expensive telescope in an attempt to win Sophie back through something that Gloria cannot provide. Leo furtively leaves Cookie while she sleeps but makes sure to provide around $35,000 in designer trinkets on the nightstand. Gloria continues the cycle in an American fashion by purchasing toys to send home to her children after yet another phone call from her son is filled with sobs. She picks up a basketball and notices at the checkout stand that it is stamped with “Made in Phillipines.”
In the end, the families are brought back together but not without tragedy. Most specifically, Salvador naively enters a sex trafficking area in the middle of the night and ends up in the hospital. The film is slow-paced in the typical Moodyson style that centers on everyday interaction with characters with various moments of interpretable montages supported by Cat Power and Ladytron. The bleakest (or very darkly humorous) moment in this dismal film is probably the very last. The Vidales are all on the couch snuggling together and are happily watching their daughter sleep. There is a sense that the two adults understand the mistakes they have made and will move towards change but, alas, the closing lines are:
Leo: “Do you have to work tomorrow?”
Ellen: “Yes. You?”
Leo: “No. I think I’ll take a few days off. Take Sophie to school.”
Ellen: “Good…We will have to find another maid.”
The American show must go on!
They have a cute daughter who seems to be doing fine despite her parents’ workaholic ways, no doubt thanks to the doting efforts of live-in Filipino nanny Gloria (Necesito), whose own children back home have it rough. (We view the crippling poverty and nod soberly.)
Moodysson, who won acclaim for his 1998 film Show Me Love and Lilya 4-ever in 2002, uses such contrasting images such as a stuffed refrigerator full of fruit and food and the luxury lifestyle of New York, with the poverty and deprivations of the Philippines and Thailand.
It is all too simplistic and obvious and increasingly the preachy tone becomes irritating.
Ellen and Leo’s nanny has left her own sons in the Philippines to care for a stranger’s daughter in New York. We watch with impending doom as her two young children wander their home country trying to make money so mommy won’t have to work anymore. Sadly, this is easily the weakest section of the film, as tragedy feels inevitable or else the commentary on how wealthy people pay the poor to essentially leave their own children wouldn’t resonate. The intended emotional impact of the Filipino third of the film feels manipulative.
from Manohla Dargis:
In “Mammoth,” when a rich child eats her lunch in New York, a poor boy in the Philippines cries. And so it goes, as privilege begets exploitation with grimly deterministic logic and pages and pages of bad dialogue
6. Surviving Crooked Lake (2008) [Rated PG-13 for some disturbing bloody images, brief strong language, drug use and smoking.]
summary from imdb.com:
A summertime canoe trip turns into a nightmare for four 14-year-old girls.
tomorrow, for Earth Day, Avatar will be released onto dvd/blu-ray in a non-3D edition with no special features… and the movie “Oceans” will be released into theaters… Oceans is a “Participant Media” production which means it might be a leftist preach-fest…
here’s a review of Oceans from the Boston Phoenix:
Despite the talents of Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud — the Oscar-nominated duo behind Winged Migration, who once again contribute their amazing, in-the-midst-of photography — the most striking thing about Oceans is its banality. Blame the perfunctory narration by Pierce Brosnan, the superficial science, the random vignettes jumping from dolphins to sea slugs and then to sea lions.
Or blame the requisite preaching to the choir about pollution and overfishing.
The filmmakers are careful to spend the majority of the film celebrating the dramatic and peaceful rituals of a wide variety of ocean animals, while punctuating the film eloquently and briefly with the enormous problem of plastics and pollution being dumped into the oceans. Most disturbing is satellite footage that shows the dark streams of pollution emanating from American rivers directly into the sea. [...] In an effort at improving an essential part of the ocean floor Disneynature is donating a portion of the film’s first week proceeds to save our coral reefs. Without Jacques Cousteau’s lifelong contributions to oceanic exploration, a film like “Oceans” would not be possible. When asked what he saw as the biggest threat to our planet, Jacques Cousteau said, that by far it was our population explosion. America’s population has more than doubled since Cousteau made that statement. If anything, “Oceans” makes us aware that sea creatures are people too.