Five Easy Pieces (C). I caught this 1970 release at the Magnolia this past Tuesday night, knowingly really nothing about it except that it starred Jack Nicholson and featured a famous scene in which his character tries to order toast at a diner. It’s okay, but I didn’t think it was so great. Nicholson (The Shining) plays Bobby Dupea, a malcontent who works on oil rigs somewhere in California and is generally rude to his countrified waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black, Nashville). What’s eating him? Well, you find out about halfway through the movie that he has fled a more genteel life, and he decides to go back to the family home in Washington state and see his father, who has had a debilitating stroke. He doesn’t fit it there any better than he does among the commoners back home. Movies about misfits aren’t really my thing, so I didn’t particularly warm up to this one. Watch for small roles for Sally Struthers (TV’s All in the Family) and Toni Basil (singer of the pop gem “Mickey”). It was nominated for four Oscars®, including best picture, best actor (Nicholson), and best supporting actress (Black), and it’s only 98 minutes long, so check it out and see if you agree with me.
Getting Hitched: Rediscovering the Basic Truths of Mutual Attraction, by David R. Upham, Ph.D (2015). I first found out about Dr. Upham’s interest in marriage by hearing about his blog, www.whygethitched.com. Then I heard about his book. He’s a politics professor at my own alma mater, the University of Dallas, so my curiosity was piqued. At only 115 pages, the book is a pretty breezy read. He assumes that the reader is at least open to the possibility of getting married, and he makes his case for what men and women are attracted to, what they look for in a mate, and what dating strategies are best for finding a suitable mate. He generally steers clear of religious argument, sticking mostly to literature, pop culture, and a goodly amount of evolutionary biology. A lot of what he said made sense to me. If the subject of marriage interests you at all, this book is not a bad investment.
The Innocents (A-). This French-Polish co-production, which is based on true events, packs a powerful punch. It’s December 1945. A young nun sneaks out of a little Catholic convent in the Polish countryside and hurries to the nearest town, desperately seeking a doctor–and one, she insists, who is neither Polish nor Russian. Against all odds, she finds a young French doctor named Mathilde who is willing to leave her Red Cross station and visit the convent. Mathilde is shocked at what she finds there: seven pregnant nuns. When the Soviet Army “liberated” Poland several months earlier, the marauding soldiers invaded the convent and raped the nuns. Now, the nuns who conceived are reaching full term. And no one outside the convent can know, or else the the convent will be shuttered and the women shunned in society as disgraced. It’s a horrible situation, and still more horrible things happen as Mathilde tries to help the nuns in their hour of crisis. There are a few happy moments, and Mathilde strikes up an unlikely friendship with Maria, the second-in-command at the convent, but the movie is largely bleak and upsetting. Still, I found it a compelling cinematic experience. But please do exercise discretion in deciding whether to see this movie, especially if scenes depicting sexual assault are triggering for you.
If you like this movie, I encourage you to look up Ida, a Polish movie from a couple of years ago, focusing on a single Polish nun discovering some family secrets going back to WWII. Also, A Woman in Berlin, another based-on-a-true-story movie, about the fall of Berlin at the end of WWII and the fate of the ordinary Germans who lived there when the Soviets arrived.
Ghostbusters (D). I gather there has been a lot of hoopla about this Ghostbusters remake because it has four ladies instead of four guys wielding the anti-ghost proton packs or whatever they’re called. Some of that energy should have been channeled into making a better movie. I haven’t seen the original in a very long time, but in my memory it was a mildly amusing comedy with a lot of cool special effects. The new film doubles down on the special effects, but it isn’t funny, and the gooey we’re-not-just-a-team-we’re-a-family moments made me roll my eyes. I like Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) a lot, but neither gets to do the shtick she’s good at–as exemplified in films like, I don’t know, Bridesmaids maybe. There are lots of references to stuff in the original movie, which die-hard Ghostbusters fans (I guess there are such people?) will undoubtedly appreciate. But for me, this was a 105-minute snoozer.
Oh, I unintentionally saw it in IMAX 3D, and the movie looked great, but the volume was turned up to 11. I covered my ears during some of the louder scenes. Just a word to wise.
Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014). This is “Book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy.” (I reviewed Book 1, Annihilation, a while back; you can read about it here.) Here’s the set-up: a decent-sized chunk of the United States has been almost completely cut off from the rest of the world by some sort of invisible force field, and weird, alien stuff is going on inside what is now called “Area X.” In Book 1, we learned the fate of an expedition of four women sent into Area X for reconnaissance and study purposes. In Book 2, we see what the authorities outside Area X are doing in the aftermath of that expedition. John “Control” Rodriguez is the new director of the agency studying Area X, and he quickly has his hands full as he tries to keep his weird subordinates under control while simultaneously learning all he can about Area X. I didn’t think this book was as successful as Book 1, but my curiosity is sufficiently aroused that I will finish the trilogy off here one of these days.
Genius (B). This movie isn’t doing too well with the critics (current score of 56 over at metacritic.com) but I think they are somehow overlooking the fact that Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) is in the movie. Just kidding! Anyhoo, perhaps my low expectations led me to enjoy it more than I otherwise would have. It’s a biopic about editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Back around the year 1929, Wolfe was a manic would-be writer out of North Carolina with a married mistress (played by Kidman), and Perkins was a buttoned-down family man with five daughters. The movie basically just tells the story of their sometimes-difficult relationship as Perkins shaped Wolfe’s thousands of pages into manageable novels that met mainstream and critical success. Other authors that Perkins edited also pop up, like a washed-up F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce, Memento) and a macho Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West, 300). And the always-welcome Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) has a small part as Mrs. Perkins. I thought it wasn’t a bad movie. It may have helped that I had actually read one of Wolfe’s novels, Look Homeward, Angel; you can read my review here and see if it sounds like your cup of tea.
Bonnie and Clyde (B+). I recently got to see a special screening of this 1967 release, directed by Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker) and starring Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown). It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still very interesting and entertaining. Beatty and Dunaway play Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The fellow who hosted the screening said the movie should be considered “historical fiction,” but, if wikipedia is any guide, one thing this film gets right is that the Barrow Gang didn’t hesitate to shoot people, even (or especially) police officers, who got in their way. It was considered an unusually violent and graphic movie back in the day, and I thought it was still a little shocking at times. I was also shocked to see Denver Pyle in a small supporting role. I knew him only from TV’s Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and especially The Dukes of Hazzard; I didn’t know that he had ever been an actor. It also co-stars Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers), Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) in his film debut, and a kid named Michael J. Pollard who had recently appeared in the original Star Trek episode “Miri.” It’s one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” Definitely worth seeing, unless you really don’t like shoot-em-ups.