Archive for February, 2012

Why do the critics think that everything Ryan Gosling touches is Oscar Gold? In Drive, Gosling plays a stunt driver with a sideline as a getaway chauffeur. Throw in a cute little kid with a nice mommy in harm’s way and you got the ingredients for a Vin Diesel, Nicolas Cage or even maybe Sly Stallone actioneer. All of them could do the blank stare mono lip thing just as well and never get the Oscar buzz Gosling gets. Or for that matter, the hype Albert Brooks is getting for playing the bad guy. Drive gets an overrated, overhyped B-.

After watching “A Better Life” it is hard to disagree with its insistence that the best Americans are the ones we deport. The decency, compassion and understanding of Demian Bichir’s (in a well-earned Oscar performance) Carlos Galindo is a mirror of the better aspirations and character of America itself. The contempt his son Luis shows for Carlos’ rooted very Catholic mercy to the people who have wronged him, reflections of America now. The “Bicycle Thief” similar adventure they both experience in their quest for a stolen gardening truck, visions of the ideal American future as inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Hopefully we as Americans can reconcile our hearts, minds and action to such “A Better Life”. It gets a B+.

Elizabeth Olsen makes a smart disconnection from the fluffy full house of her more famous older twin sisters in “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, a film also about a young woman trying to establish an identity apart from the cult she has known while living in the refuge of her older real world sister’s home. The jarring distinctions between the free love cult that she escaped from and who called her Marcy May and the expected restrictions, mores and etiquettes of the real world never really get resolved in her or between her sister who knows her as Martha Marlene. The cultic bliss eventually dissolves into Charles Manson style repression, abuse, rape, and murder; while the outer world beyond her sister never understands her and eventually puts her away. She is left with what life gives us all: a bit of redemption, self-knowledge, small successes not equal to our grand dreams and a lot of disappointment. It gets an A.

A Dangerous Method turns Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) into their own textbook neurosis.  Freud is the Oedipal father figure/mentor forever smoking cigars (the movie’s overwrought phallic symbol), pontificating about repression, childhood trauma, filtering experience solely thru the all sexual lens.   Jung is the son/mentee arguing for a little God in the mix, more freedom and self-determination.  Keira Knightley plays Sabina Spielrein the patient, turned student, doctor, lover and the cause of the two titans falling out when she and Jung break the doctor/patient sex taboo and become involved in an affair that is more hanky spanky than the real deal.  Knightley’s performance is all a bundle of tics that settles down into a fast talking mind spouting brilliant observations that Jung cribs into his theories.   Fassbender’s  occasional flares of sadomasochistic passion never quite hides that he is both Knightley’s and Mortensen’s whipping boy.   Very disappointing considering that director David Cronenberg is a master of such venereal horror.  A B-.

It is more than a shame that the Academy snubbed Michael Fassbender’s honest, need say shameless performance in “Shame”.   Still, a tour de force can’t exist in a vacuüm.  It was wise for director Steve McQueen to give Fassbender  both a muse and doppelgänger in Carey Mulligan’s Sissy.   The sex addicted, emotionally tied up brother mirrors the freer but more emotionally and mentally damaged sibling.  The two, locked in a cycle of death wish and destruction, rage against each other, expose the lies of the other, and yet hold each other tight in a relationship that dances close to incest.  It’s all raw, honest and heartbreaking.  Shame gets an A.

Christopher Plummer knows what to do when he gets one of those roles that the Academy just loves– he under acts the heck out of it.  Plummer’s Hal Fields is not just a dying gay man; he is an elderly dying gay man with a sad sack son and a cute Jack Russell who speaks in subtitles.  Poor Ewan McGregor, who plays the son, has the misfortune of being stuck between Da and Dog; stuck in the flowering wallflower role of director and screenwriter Mike Mills retelling of a very personal family history in which he is a mere subplot.  By the end the bitter-sweet story is just sweet.  The ache gets hugged away.   Beginners get a B+.

An alternate Mardi Gras parade organization, or krewe to use the local New Orléans slang, known as The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus composed of ” the most revelrous of Star Wars Freaks, Trekkies, Whovians, Mega-Geeks, Circuit Benders, Cryptozooligists, UFO Conspiracy Theorists, Mad Scientists, and all the rest of Super Nerdom” (according to the group’s web page) is getting the attention of float builders and Fat Tuesday costume aficionados. The krewe’s simple and enormously appealing Mardi Gras formula: Bacchanalian Revelry + Sci Fi = BacchanALIENS.  And you need not be a Wookie to join.  The open source group is downloadable and subscribeable for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe perfect price of $42.00 a year. This year’s TIKC parade theme is “Chewbaccalypse” and bans only floats displaying unicorns, elves and whinebots.