Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Laina At the Movies

March, 2016

Witch

This was advertised as a horror film that I would have passed up, except when I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the intentions of the film maker. The film was supposed to be the most accurate depiction of what life was like during the American Pilgrim period.

It certainly was that. I very much admired the authenticity of details in this strange little film: clothing, implements, and the frightened piety of Calvinists who truly believed in witches and in hell.

What could have been a wonderful psychological drama about a very decent family (father, mother, five children) was turned instead into a horror film. Too bad.  This could have been really wonderful.

The Lady in the Van

If you find it interesting to watch a movie about a 1973 playwright who develops an unlikely relationship with a homeless and somewhat unhinged woman who lives in a van in his driveway, be my guest.

This film showcases the wonderful Maggie Smith, whom I would rather remember as the dowager countess in Downton Abbey. Yes, the acting was wonderful, but after two hours of sitting in the theater, watching the playwright scraping human dung off his shoes, I fail to see the point. The Academy might have liked it, but I didn't.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

This was the first really good movie I have seen this month. Tina Fey plays a TV cable news copywriter who volunteers for a short stint in Afghanistan early in the 2002 war. Being an on-camera journalist in a very remote country at war proves addictive. She remains for 3 years instead, leaving only when her cable news station brings her home because audiences are tired of the Afghan war.
However, this book, based on The Taliban Shuffle, Kim Barker's memoir, also shows the unhealthy addiction to excitement that takes over the lives of so many journalists living with the daily possibility of death.

Tina Fey plays Kim, is a somewhat nerdy workaholic who discovers courage that she never expected of herself. She is both funny and vulnerable, and I was touched by this portrayal, unlike most critics who did not find this film “edgy” enough.

Afghanistan is edgy enough for me. Ugly, violent, corrupt, and largely illiterate, the film provides many insights that say it all.  I loved the henna-bearded villager who sees a Black marine and tells his people that the Russians are black now.

When journalists from around the world are thrown together in one hotel in Kabul, and every time they go out, they might not come back, a certain amount of bravado creeps in. They bond as might soldiers, but unlike the discipline of the military, they dull their brains with every kind of alcohol, drugs, and sex.

The portrayal of a corrupt Afghan official (played by Alfred Molina) reminded me of counterparts whom I met during my own stint in Iran. And the lovely portrayal of her translator and bodyguard, Fahim, played by Christopher Abbott, gave me a twinge of pain thinking of what the Taliban has been doing to our former Afghan colleagues.

This film has managed to be entertaining without being vacuous. It was better than I expected.

The Wave
After a week of obnoxious American political life and the horrors of Islam-Gone-Mad in Belgium and Pakistan, this Norwegian catastrophe movie was a treat. It is a good thing to watch a film about decent, clever people responding to a horrific natural catastrophe.

This film tells the story about an event that happens with some regularity because of Norway's peculiar geography: the very rugged mountain slopes, almost vertical, framing the many fingers of ocean inlets called fjords. These mountains are not stable, and must be watched at all times for avalanches that can set off tsunamis up to 300 feet.

A very nice family lives in a village called Geiranger, a tourist town with a breathtaking view of water and mountains. The mountains are monitored by gauges that can pick up tremors or any sort of change that could predict a rockfall and tsunami. The geologists whose job is to monitor the equipment include one of their number, the film's protagonist, Kristian, who is a stickler for double and triple checking the findings. He is about to move with his family to a new job (a promotion), but on his last day at work, the team notices some anomalies in the gauges, which they are hesitant to use to warn the community of an avalanche (in the middle of tourist season). Kristian and a colleague go up the mountain to look, and suspect that something is not right.

The team, distrustful of instruments that might be off-base, causing them to sound the warning that would frighten off tourists, hesitate. They hesitate too long, and when they finally sound the alarm, the community has only 10 minutes to go evacuate to higher ground.

This is, of course, a disaster. What makes this film worth seeing (in addition to its absolute natural beauty) is how the geologist and his family, separated from each other, respond. This is a film about human beings at their most challenged, behaving with splendid courage and ingenuity.

Thinking about this afterwards, I wondered about our own reluctance to totally trust to our technology (the monitoring equipment, for example), and to realize how vulnerable we are to natural disasters. It was nice to find out at the end of the  movie  that after this, these mountains are monitored 24/7 and the next warning would not have to wait until only 10 minutes are left.

Also, the socialism of Norway has not done away with the work ethic, as critics would claim. All of these hard-working people were diligent and worthy citizens, even those working for the government.

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