On the Meaning of Sex (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

On the Meaning of Sex, by J. Budziszewski (ISI Books 2012).  It is no secret that American morals and mores about sex are currently in a state of flux.  In this slender volume, a University of Texas professor of government and philosophy attempts a defense of traditional sexual morals and mores based largely on a natural-law approach.  Chapter two is arguably the heart of the argument, in which the author tries to tease out the “meanings and purposes of the sexual powers.”  To try to do this without reference to a Creator of humanity seems like a difficult and slippery assignment.  I suppose our organs can be said to have “purposes” in the sense that they contribute to individual and species survival when they work a certain way, but to attribute “meanings” to the organs or to their “powers” seems a little bit of a stretch.  Anyway, the author argues that the sexual act has dual purposes or meanings, those being procreation and the union of the participants.  He further argues that the two meanings are pretty much inseparable, given the reality that, for humans, procreation entails parenting, and good parenting requires a long-term partnership of the parents.  And he argues that severing the unitive meaning of the sexual act from the procreative meaning—which is a good chunk of what the sexual revolution is about—is contrary to our natures and to our flourishing as human beings.  That’s a lot of argument to pack into one short chapter.  Subsequent chapters are almost as ambitious.  In chapter three he tackles the “meaning” of the differences between the sexes, and he argues that potential motherhood and potential fatherhood are the essential, defining characteristics of women and men (respectively).  In chapter four he tries to reason through the meaning of love in general and sexual love in particular.  Then he takes on the topics of sexual beauty and sexual purity, before wrapping up with a chapter about “transcendence” in which he unavoidably talks some about God.  Anyway, obviously it is a very ambitious book, and the degree of success the author achieves is probably bound to be somewhat in the eye of the beholder.  I thought it was interesting and worth reading slowly.

Double Indemnity

The Movie Snob takes in a classic.

Double Indemnity  (B).  Yes, it was classic movie night at The Magnolia again last Tuesday night, and I just had to take a gander at this classic film noir I’ve heard so much about.  Fred MacMurray (TV’s My Three Sons) plays Walter Neff, a talented but amoral insurance salesman.  He calls on a wealthy client and finds that the client isn’t home but his sultry wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve) is.  Sparks fly, and before long Walter is hatching a scheme with Phyllis to insure her husband’s life and then off him.  It’s a pretty good movie, but the effect was slightly spoiled in the early going by the audience’s frequent outbursts of laughter during some of the excessively hard-boiled dialogue.  And I didn’t quite buy the ending.  But still and all, I enjoyed the movie.  Edward G. Robinson (Soylent Green) co-stars as the insurance claims investigator who can smell insurance fraud a mile away.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Hundred-Foot Journey (B).  My mom is visiting me, and I had saved this movie up for her visit because it looked like one of the few squeaky-clean movies available these days.  Happily, it was just as squeaky-clean as the trailers had led me to believe it would be.  The Kadam family runs a restaurant in India until political violence destroys their business and causes the death of the family’s matriarch.  Papa Kadam (Om Puri, Charlie Wilson’s War) moves his family to Europe, and they wind up in a little French town where they open an Indian restaurant right across the street from a fancy French restaurant run by the haughty Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, The Queen).  One of the Kadams, Hasan (Manish Dayal, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), is a cook with great natural talent and deeply soulful eyes, and Madame Mallory’s cute sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, Mood Indigo) encourages him out by giving him some French cookbooks.  It’s a little sappy, and it loses some steam in the rushed third act, but I can’t deny I enjoyed it.

Tracks

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

Tracks (B).  Well, this movie has already disappeared from Dallas-area theaters, but you can probably still catch it on one of those newfangled “netflicks” or something.  Anyway, it is based on the true story of Robyn Davidson, a young woman who set out to walk across Australia, east to west, with four camels and a dog back in the late 1970s. Mia Wasikowsks (Stoker) stars as Davidson, and although she turns in a nice performance, I was left a little unclear what would possess someone to want to do such a crazy thing.  Adam Driver (Frances Ha) co-stars as a National Geographic photographer who pops in from time to time to take some pix of the adventuress and her camels.  The flick also gives you a close-up look at what camels are really like—big, ornery, and possessed of big, pointy, nasty teeth.  There were surprisingly few snakes, spiders, and crocodiles, though.  Anyway, I enjoyed it, and I look forward to comparing this film to the upcoming Wild starring Reese Witherspoon (Mud).

My Old Lady

A new review from The Movie Snob.

My Old Lady (D). Despite its great cast, I did not like this movie. Kevin Kline (A Prairie Home Companion) stars as Jim, an American loser who has just inherited a very valuable Paris apartment upon the death of his estranged father. But when he spends his last dime to go to Paris and sell the thing, he discovers it is occupied by an elderly lady named Mathilde (Maggie Smith, TV’s Downton Abbey), and that he doesn’t actually get the apartment until she dies. And on top of that, he has to pay her a princely sum every month, or he loses it all. And on top of that, Mathilde’s daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) also lives there, and she immediately develops an intense loathing for ol’ Jim. Based on a play, this is a very stagy movie with lots of dramatic monologues. As the climax approached, I thought the characters behaved in an unbelievable and rather icky fashion. In short, the script let the actors down. Sadly, I must recommend that you skip this one and stick to Downton Abbey for your Maggie Smith fix.

Gone Girl

Mom Under Cover checks in.  CAUTION: Some might consider the following review to contain spoilers.

Gone Girl (B+)

David Fincher’s (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network) latest offering, based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 best seller of the same name, is a dark thriller and a good one at that.  (I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know whether the movie strayed from the novel.)  The movie opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) stroking his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head and wanting to crack open her skull…to know what she’s really thinking….and then it picks up with the search for the missing Amy.  As the plot unfolds, we learn both partners are liars and cheats and the marriage is nothing like the storybook romance it appears to be.   Affleck more than adequately portrays the shallow Nick, but it is Pike (Pride & Prejudice, An Education) whose performance mesmerizes.  Perhaps the discipline she uses to turn her natural British accent into the American middle-of-the-country-lack-of-accent fuels her controlled, depraved presence as Amy.  Neil Patrick Harris is sublime as the stalker.  Oh, and if I had been reading the book instead of watching the movie, the ending might have caused me to throw the book across the room.

The Maze Runner

It’s The Hunger Games.  No, it’s Divergent.  No, it’s

The Maze Runner (C).  Yes, it is yet another young-adult movie about some weird future dystopia where the young adults must lead the way.  The set-ups are definitely getting more outlandish.  In this movie, a bunch of teenaged boys have had their memories erased and then been put in the middle of a giant maze with walls a hundred feet high.  Maybe two hundred.  The boys are reasonably safe in their giant clearing in the center of the maze, but anyone who goes into the maze and stays there after nightfall gets killed by some unseen terror.  Spooky, huh?  Anyhoo, the lost boys have avoided getting all Lord-of-the-Fliesy by having just a few strict rules, but then a newcomer named Thomas shows up and wants to start breaking them all in his quest to escape the maze.  Things could have really gotten interesting when the first and only girl in the tribe shows up soon after Thomas does, but by then the maze is getting all wonky, and the boys are more worried about surviving than vying for the new prom queen’s affections.  Patricia Clarkson (Easy A) has a couple of scenes as the mysterious power behind the maze.