Tag Archives: movies

Catching Fire Eclipses Twilight

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Never is it more crystal clear that Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games movies, is the anti-Bella Swan, made famous in the Twilight series, than The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Bella is brave in her own way, of course, as a clumsy girl stumbling into one bad decision after another trying to save the man she loves – she thinks she loves. The Twilight movies spend time and money to stretch normal – to make Vampires and Werewolves really just like you and me. In fact, we all have a dark side, right? And Bella, even when she finally has strength, uses it to fight for her daughter and the right to allow good and evil to co-exist. And, aptly, even that turned out to be a bloodless fight that takes place in the mind.

Katniss takes responsibility for herself from the moment she volunteers to take on the fight against evil. There is no subtext of tolerance here. Evil in these movies wears false eyelashes, loves its indulgences and murders for play and manipulation. It’s an embodiment of the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The fight is not for balance. The fight is to the death.

One of Catching Fire’s most devastating moments comes when Katniss understands that winning was a lie, promises of life-long protection were more lies and the lies will never end.

“You are going to be on this train for the rest of your life,” explains the blowsy, boozy coach, Haymitch.

Katniss has to develop her own strength — get dirty, bloody and hungry. She has to be defiant and risk everything. Only when it’s Game Over does the idea of strategy find a foothold in Katniss’s passionate battle against wrong.

“Remember who the real enemy is,” we are reminded. And it’s not inside us. It’s real and it wants to devour us.

The movie itself is spectacular – far more than the first. Everything is intense and not just true to the book, but visually carving the book’s intentions into your psyche and you carry it with you.

When you leave the theatre, the glitter of the mall, the spectacle of Christmas and the pretense of Santa Claus might be an affront. Especially if you know that the real meaning of Christmas celebrates a defiant carpenter born in a stable, wielding a whip and headed toward death to overcome evil once and for all.

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Misery Loves Company

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I finally saw Les Miserables. “Take tissues!” was the universal advice of friends. I shoved a Christmas hanky in my purse.

I hadn’t really heard the music, seen the play, or read the book – well, that’s not completely true. I read the book in 10th grade French class. Did I understand what I was reading? Absolutely not. In fact, I had it mixed up with Tale of Two Cities and thought there was a sad, suicidal ending and didn’t rush to the movie line on Christmas Day. Turned out there was a not-so-sad suicidal ending that most people did not expect. Either way, I was a Les Miz virgin.

At risk of being labeled cold, unfeeling and probably — gasp — humanistic, I was dry-eyed throughout. It just didn’t move me. The redemption was cheap, the forgiveness empty, the misery spread evenly to all classes, all genders, all characters. At least it was aptly named. All of the characters were miserable and I was, too.

Opening a film with starved, beaten prisoners wear chains and irons around their necks creates a certain emotional distance in me right off the bat. The same thing happened when I saw the cover of the book The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing showing a whole-head iron mask locked on a black man’s head. It was beyond my ability to engage and made the story so secondary to the imagery that none of it worked. 

The horrors of man’s inhumanity to man and the personification of corrupted power in a uniform-strutting bureaucrat who in reality defies the law by not accepting the conclusion of lawful punishment doesn’t work for me. Surrounding it by lush French luxury or even by slimy revolutionary sweat and dirt doesn’t distract me from the fact that the same atrocities occur here and now all over the globe, including our own American prisons and interrogation rooms. 

It was just all so stereotypical. The heart-of-gold tough bitch who takes a bullet for her innocently pure revolutionary man. For that matter, the innocently pure revolutionary man himself, capable of love at first sight (and looking like a fresh-faced 12 year-old.) The wise boychild also taking a bullet for freedom. Then there are the literally clownish representations of criminality and the lack of consequences for their acrobatic pickpocketing juxtaposed with 19 years of slavery for stealing bread for a starving child. What was that supposed to be about?  I can see it as much-needed comic relief, but the similarities with Mrs. Hannigan in Annie and her brother, “Rooster,” the subtle reference to low-rent White House party-crashers, and the ultimate celebration of amorality in such a strong morality tale was just off. 

If there were a few scenes that made slight tugs at  my heart, if not my tear ducts, but they were quickly overshadowed by the singing.

The relentless singing.

One passionate, defiant solo after another. In close up. Again and again. Has anyone heard of the power of harmony? The inspiration of a choir? And I’m not even talking about the not one, not two, but three operatic rounds of over-singing. I just would like some variety in tempo and intensity. The sameness was another indication that I wasn’t supposed to know who to root for.

The best music in the film was the simple, quiet, apropos-of-nothing singing of the convent nuns. Viewed from the back. The worst (and there are now websites devoted to this topic) had to be Amanda Seyfried Sleeping Beauty wannabe vibrato soprano.  That whole 1940’s  female ideal epitomized by a squeaky-pitched song (alarmingly like Minnie Mouse) was so out of place. I like Seyfried. She was the best thing about Mamma Mia, and her subsequent corny movies were fun. But I’ll never be able to watch those blue-pool eyes on a big screen again without hearing that screech about fake true love. The least heroic couple in the movie and that’s supposed to be the great love that makes everything right? The hope for the future? The OK-ness to wrap everything up?

I don’t think so. The misery of the masses is not lifted by the marriage of an aristocratic couple that become the people that they once fought against. The cycle just continues. 

Who is righteous?  It’s the question that gets hot-potato’d around the movie characters. Is it the self-destructive official who can’t live in a world of grace? The scary prisoner who keeps creating a prison out of his circumstances and can’t live in a world without grace? Are the prostitutes, thieves, catty factory workers, the brutish foreman, the horny sailors, the idealistic rebels, the squeaky sopranos — are they among the righteous?  Are you? Am I?

The Bible says, “No, not one.”  We are – all of us – Les Miserables. None of us deserving of grace, all of us saved by grace; not by heroics or being on the right or wrong side of a cause or the up or down side of a society.The failure of this film to deal with the root cause of human evil didn’t make me cry.

It just made me sad.

 

 

 

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Giving Nine a Ten

Maybe it’s because I’m Italian.  Maybe it’s because I saw 8 1/2 in college and some other Fellini movies, or Scenes from a Marriage by Bergman. Or loved All That Jazz about Bob Fosse. (“It’s Showtime!”) Maybe it’s because I miss Rome.  Not sure why, but I liked Nine.

And want to see it again.

The previews were intriguing and the hype on Oprah! was compelling. All those pretty stars in sexy outfits. Fergie. Nicole. Kate. Penelope. Marion. Sophia. And Dame Judith Dench. All that cleavage.  That’s when I realized that this was a man’s movie, not a chick flick.  A guy’s movie without action and guns and killing and sports and political intrigue.  What?

The audience is drawn into the head of a movie maker, Guido Contini (played by an unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis) as he hallucinates, dreams, pretends, lies, and places blame. The musical numbers are way over the top – because they come from his head, not reality. The way we all have the worst boss in the world, the most stubborn husband/wife, the meanest brother, the stupidest priest, the most forgiving dead mother…

And what a dead mother. Sophia Loren. What better icon can there be of Italy, home of the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that makes it O.K. for wives to be neglected and mistresses to be abused. Her part is perfection.

In turn, the failing Guido looks to the women in his life to inspire and rescue him. The triumph of the movie is that they all fail him. The affair turns into despair, the prostitute from his childhood grows up to be crude and sleazy, the seduction of the American fails to intrigue him, the movie star refuses to play the part of a rescuer, and the wife refuses to play the part of a fool. Marion Cotillard’s song excusing his behavior, “My husband makes movies…” takes the kind of dopey lyrics and turns them into the lament of every woman who believes the dopey lies of unfaithful husbands. The dopey excuses that we tell ourselves.

As Guido spins toward meltdown, he calls upon his mother and she says the truest line in the movie – “You have to figure it out for yourself.”

The scriptures say it another way – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

I thought for years that it seemed to be saying that we could save ourselves. That salvation was something we accomplished. Guido fakes an 8×10 glossy photo autograph and kiss for the Cardinal who loves his movies, yet bans them. The perfect metaphor for taking salvation into our own hands.

It took a long time for me to figure out that if we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to be saved in the first place.

Now I know salvation to be personal, individual, humbling, and my only hope.

Fame, sex, money, beauty, love; Guido destroys those muses one by one with the kiss/slap precision of a man racing away from the paparazzi in a convertible.  He fails.  And no chirping forest animals come skipping to the rescue. Snow White is dead. There is no prince.

Like I said, it’s a guy movie. A complete fantasy that puts into sharp perspective the fact that real life is fantastically incomplete.

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