Monday, March 9, 2015

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
February 2015

Jupiter Ascending
This film can indeed be described as a “Space Opera”---a cross between a Space Epic and Soap Opera, with everything thrown in, or rather lifted, from Beowulf to techie futuristic space imaginings. It certainly provided me with an afternoon of escape and some great laugh-out-loud moments that I think were worth the whole more than two hours of sitting.

Most critics did not like it much, but some, such as the San Francisco Chronicle critic did like it enough to warrant my giving it a chance, for which I was glad. Even though it was a half hour too long and I could not really tell you half of the plot line, I left the theater happy and amused. I can tell you what I liked.

The movie opens like La Boheme: a couple of starving students, freezing in the snow in St. Petersburg, gazing at the stars where Jupiter is Ascending. A British astronomy student and beautiful Russian student fall in love, get married, and are about to have a baby whom the father insists must be named Jupiter---when the now usual Russian thugs burst into their garret to steal their money and shoot the father dead. The woman goes into labor and gives birth to Jupiter Jones and baby Jones and her family flee to America where they live in poverty, cleaning rich people's apartments.

Don't ask me why or how this young woman, Jupiter Jones, is of royal blood in a galaxy in which earth is a property among many planets and she is snatched and being fought over by some very strange intergalactic spoiled royalty, and being protected by some other very strange intergalactic warriors (one of whom is more genetically closer to a wolf than a human), but there it is.

This movie has intergalactic equivalent car chases (now rockets), good old dragons stolen from Beowolf (“you hurt me, you will regret that!”), a wedding ceremony pretending to be futuristic but looking like a space version of Westminster Abbey and involving a priest and gold rings, and the never ending nonsense of royal blood!  Bees never sting princesses, do they?

But if there is one reason to go see this movie, it is a scene when even a royal princess has to go through bureaucracy. A smiling diplomat steers her from one booth to another, each nastier and less helpful, each more reminiscent of bankers and airport passport people I remember well in Paris or worse still, in Athens or Tehran, until the final one, a Dickensonian horror wearing an eyeglass that magnified his eye like a Cyclops and he put something into an ancient machine that finally spat out a coin that then did something that printed an image on her royal wrist. Thank you, she purred. I was nearly on the floor laughing.

The final treat was that this movie gave us the first interspecies romance. Ah, lovely.

50 Shades of Grey

Yes, I really did see this because I wanted to review it, not because I thought it would turn me on. It did not do so. I saw Deep Throat many years ago for the same reason with a school teacher friend, and we both laughed at the heavy breathing around us and looked around as we left the theater hoping not to be recognized by anybody we knew. This time, the only other people in the theater were a couple of elderly ladies and one man, and nobody breathed heavily. Times have changed.

Alas, this really could have been a sweet love story, like Sleepless in Seattle, if it didn't have the utterly unnecessary tip-toeing around some S & M sexuality it did not need. Two charming young people, a young billionaire (Jamie Dornan) in his late 20s and a fresh-faced and bright young new graduate college graduate (and an English major to boot) (Dakota Johnson) meet and cannot stay away from each other. They have rather rare sexual problems, however: she is a virgin (almost unheard of these days) and he “doesn't do romance; he does dominance and submission.” My goodness!

He tenderly and adeptly resolves her problem and the movie could have ended right here---with him breaking all his rules---sleeping in bed with her and watching with pleasure her making breakfast for him---and even thinking of taking her out to dinner and a movie “like regular people”---but then comes his problem: the need to reassert the dominance business, a contract, and the play room with its whips and cuffs and, as he acknowledges in a moment of candor, his 50 shades of f---ed up.  Yes indeed.

To complicate things even more, she has the folly of falling in love with him, and he, despite all his resistance to the very thought, does do romance. He is falling in love with her too. We will have to wait for the second and third movies for this to get resolved.

For all the nudity and nonsense, this is not a porno movie, it is just silly. And the S&M keeping this couple from getting together is just another impediment no different from, let us say, snobby 19th century class differences in Jane Eyre.  Perhaps I am missing something, but bondage and whips just do not look like fun to me. Fooey.

McFarland, USA
Kevin Costner at 60 can still bring me into a movie theatre no matter what he does, even in a sports movie. And in a true confession, even married to a one-time Stanford University Baseball Coach as I am, I never once saw a college game. I get my sports in the movies. This time, the sport was cross country, and the movie was not only about a high school cross country team, but one in a most unlikely place, a sun scorched California central valley Hispanic backwater filled with families and kids with little hope of any future other than field work.

This true story was about a coach with no more options, exiled to the last possible place, having been fired from every other job he had for his impatience and bad temper with the spoiled darlings he failed to motivate. So here he was in McFarland with his ever-loving wife and two young daughters, forced to try to make the best of it.

McFarland seemed like a foreign country. Chickens, an inscrutable Mexican-American culture, a surly-seeming student body---but then, bit by bit, people warm to him---and he to them.

(For those of you who do not understand the Mexican-American low-rider car culture, go see this movie. It will explain a lot. It is not as menacing as you thought. It has great charm.)

He sees a talent that seems native: long-distance running, and realizes that some of these young men get up at four in the morning, pick crops, go to school, and are willing to form a cross country team under his coaching (a sport he never taught before) and they go on to compete state wide in competitions that change everything.

I love movies like this. I am a sucker for hope.  I am a sucker for my country's opportunities.  I am a sucker for feeling proud. My snooty artsy-fartsy movie-going friends can go to movies that depress them.  I like this kind, thank you.

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