Thursday, July 2, 2015

Laina At the Movies

By Laina Farhat-Holzman
June 2015

San Andreas

Because I live practically on the San Andreas Fault, I had to see the movie! The turnoff from the freeway to our street is the San Andreas exit, and our very townhouse has gone through several heavy earthquakes (such as the '89 one) with only minor damage, but one never knows. Our nearest cities, Santa Cruz and Watsonville, both suffered plenty of damage to older structures, trailer-park housing, and some roads, but not much else. No loss of life that I know of.

The movie, however, was a grand disaster film in the Hollywood mode of summer movies. The entire San Andreas fault moved, San Francisco not only fell down like dominoes, but there was fire and tsunami! And, to make the story personal, we were treated to Dwayne Johnson having to rescue his ex-wife, whom he not only still loved but who was just about to marry a very bad billionaire; he also had to rescue his college girl daughter; and his vehicles of rescue included a helicopter, plane, car, and speedboat!  What more could you want?

I went home after seeing this film, still not frightened by my very own San Andreas Fault.  Better that than the Texas floods, thank you.


I am generally not fond of silly spy movies (I take my spy movies seriously), but this one did make me laugh, and the laughter was fun and not embarrassing. A desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper (played by Melissa McCarthy) tasked with guiding her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on a mission to Bulgaria sees him run into trouble. He accidentally kills his target without finding the suitcase nuke bomb he is supposed to bring back. The CIA learns that the target's daughter, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) might know where the suitcase is and they send Fine to infiltrate her home. Boyanov encounters him and apparently shoots him dead. She claims to know the identities of all the main CIA agents too.

There is no other choice now: Susan Cooper must become a field agent; she is unknown to Boyanov. Cooper, fat, frumpy, and with unlikely disguises, romps her way through all the garden spots of Europe in pursuit of gorgeous Rayna Boyanov, followed by outraged former CIA agent Rick Ford (Jason Stratham) and an Italian contact Aldo (hilariously played by Peter Serafinowicz). The rest of the film is sheer mayhem.  Very funny indeed. Worth seeing. It makes fun of every Bond Film made.

About Elly

This is a Persian movie that I was very happy to see, and that will puzzle the casual viewer who might wonder what this was all about. It even took me a while to figure out the purpose of this film after leaving the theater, but for what it is worth, here is my take on it. (And note, I understood the dialogue!)

A group of friends travel to the shores of the Caspian Sea for a three day vacation. (I would not know their backgrounds from the film, but learned this from the blurb.) They are three married couples, former classmates at the law faculty at the university: Sepideh and her husband Amir, with a young daughter in kindergarten; Shohreh and her husband Peyman with two young children, including a son, Arash: Nazy, and her husband, Manuchehr; Ahmad, a divorced friend visiting from Germany; and Elly, Sepideh's daughter's kindergarten teacher. Sepideh has invited her to meet Ahmad who is looking for a new wife.

Some background for Americans: The Caspian Sea area in Iran is the favorite vacation region in the country. It gets 80 inches of rainfall and is flanked by mountains separating it from Tehran and Iran's interior dry interior plateaus. It was rainy and overcast throughout this movie. When I was last there, it was the playground of the rich. It is now run down and shabby, like the “villa” (vacation rental) where the party stayed.

Sepideh was the organizer of the weekend. She loves making things happen. She rented the villa, played matchmaker for her friend the teacher and former schoolmate Ahmad, and just wanted to make everything work. Her only problem was that like probably everyone in Iran has, in order to survive, truth is a luxury. We follow the little lies through to the big lies throughout this film.

First lie: The party arrives and the landlady tells them that the villa they rented is only available for one night. She told Sepideh that the owners were coming for the rest of the holiday. But Sepideh denies knowledge of this. The landlady offers the rundown beach villa and the group takes a vote and takes it. They clean it up  and merrily set about organizing themselves. Second lie: they tell the landlady that Ahmad and Elly are honeymooners. (Iran's Islamic law forbids unmarried couples from being together). Elly is obviously uncomfortable about something throughout the first day. The party, however, are enjoying themselves. They organize getting food, playing charades (even having the children take part), having a very jolly competitive game of volleyball (the women are just as athletic), and they are exactly like the Iranians that I remembered before the Revolution. Then Elly goes off to higher ground to make a phone call to her mother (she says) and does not tell her mother that she is at the Caspian (third lie) and tells Sepideh that she must go home. Sepideh objects and wants her to stay. They quarre and Sepideh hides her bag.

During the day, the party goes to get more food and supplies and one of the mothers asks Elly to watch the children. Elly helps one child launch a kite, and while she does, the littlest boy falls into the sea, a father rescues the child and Elly vanishes.  Nobody specifically saw her go into the water but this seems likely.

Now everything is falling apart. A sea search turns up nothing until much later, Elly's body is found. The police come. The group of friends see trouble ahead. The lies emerge. Sepideh confesses that Elly was engaged, wanted out of the engagement and was willing to meet Ahmad but had gotten cold feet. She had not seen fit to tell her friends everything. She had lied to them.. Now the group had to decide whether to back Sepideh and lie to the police, lie to the fiancĂ©, or what to do.  They instructed the children to lie. The children had to learn early.

The film ends with the whole group trying to free their car, which is stuck in the sand as the tide comes in. Stuck indeed. Iran is stuck. Is there no way to live in that country without lying?

Jurassic World

Twenty-two years have passed since the first disastrous attempt at creating a dinosaur reserve was created (Jurassic Park), and it is now already old-hat to have a Jurassic entertainment park stocked with dynosaurs (Jurassic World). Like all theme parks, the owners must continue to amuse increasingly jaded attendees---with increasingly scary “exhibits.” To this end, scientists and their financial backers have been tinkering even more with the genetic makeup of dynosaurs and, like their timeless predecessor, Dr. Frankenstein, they know not what they have let loose.

This is but one more movie of the genre of the mad scientist sort to provide summer thrills and warnings about  science gone amok, and to make it more up close and personal, it brings to us a family with a married couple contemplating divorce, to the distress of their two young boys whom they are trying to distract by a vacation to Jurassic World; the boys' aunt, a workahaulic who has not yet discovered that love is more important than the bottom line; a mad scientist who does not consider the consequences of his meddling with genes; investors who care only about money; and a hero who cares about animals, a  role model for young boys, a shrew who needs taming; and hapless tourists who need rescuing.

This is a summer movie, folks, and provides what you pay for.

Inside Out

Every single critic loved this movie, raved about how this was the best film of the summer, and provided the best, most accurate explanation of what goes on in an 11-year-old girl's mind. Having two 10-year-old granddaughters, I gave it a try.

Sorry to say, I was not overwhelmed. I have to confess that Pixar films do little for me; I am much more a fan of the beautiful Japanese cartoons, both the art and the stories, much more to my taste and more reflective of my values.

As for Inside Out, I really liked the reviews better than I liked the movie. I just  don't get the hype.

I'll See You In My Dreams

The only reason to see this film is to hear Blythe Danner's killer version of Cry Me a River.  Other than that, it is a very depressing little film about ageing that I could have done without, thank you.

Some TV Notes

Madame Secretary has been terrific! Catch up with that one if you can. Tyrant is becoming interesting and may continue to be worth watching. It was a little too soap operera-y last year but is better now. Deucheland 83 (on Sundance) is wonderful and well worth watching! Even with subtitles! The Brink, supposedly an “edgy” spy spoof about the CIA in Pakistan, is vulgar, stupid, and utterly insulting. Shame on HBO for this one!!!

On Netflix, look for Dancing on the Edge.  Very good indeed.

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