Sunday, March 15, 2015

Unfinished business: Movies

I've been binge-watching shows on Netflix and Amazon lately, instead of watching movies online. However, I've seen a surprising number of movies in actual theatres in the past few months.

I wasn't the biggest fan of Wild the book, and I was less a fan of the movie. For starters, I don't think Reese Witherspoon was the right actress to play Cheryl Strayed: she's too delicate-looking and tiny and wholesome-seeming. The movie also left out quite a lot of the book that detracted from Strayed's personal journey. Her ex-husband's role in the movie is reduced to a simply supportive character rather than a best friend who becomes a casualty of her grief and rage; her stepfather is completely absent; her mother comes across as flighty instead of complex.  I really don't know how this got nominated for Best Picture.

Fury was a pretty by-the-book WWII movie. I grew up watching them, so it was fairly predictable. The audience is initiated into the horrors of war through the experience of the young soldier who wasn't supposed to be on the front lines: he has to be taught to kill, has to be shown by his commanding officer how to interact with civilians amid chaos,  has to learn how to be part of a team in order to survive. It wasn't the greatest or most poignant war movie (though it tried to be), but it was a decent addition to the genre.

Dear White People was a movie I would have really related to when I was 21 or 22. Because it definitely reads like it was written by people fresh out of an elite private college. (It's clearly supposed to take place at a Harvard clone.) The basic plot revolves around a largely white fraternity hosting a racist Halloween party, and the events that lead up to it: attempts by the college administration to get rid of a historically all-black dorm, the role of money in higher education, and media depictions of blackness. The film attempts to explore nuances of African-American identity, which I as someone who isn't black don't feel I can critique as heavily; I feel I can say, however, that that is the most intriguing part of the movie. It reminded me of Spike Lee's Bamboozled, but set on a college campus and filled with angsty young adults trying find themselves amidst a cloud of hormones, historical race relations, and the influence of money. I left the theatre with long-buried, unsettling flashbacks to my own college experience, but feeling that the movie tried too hard with too much material. It could have been a more powerful statement on race in higher education. In the moment, I appreciated certain scenes in the movie; but stepping back it was barely even a surface-scratching look at a very serious set of issues.

Mi Hermana and I ran out to watch the third movie in the Hunger Games series. As a huge fan of the books, I was a huge fan of this movie. The third book in the trilogy is split into two movies, and Mockingjay: Part I was pretty amazing. Friends who saw it before me told me that the communications team (following Katniss around bombed-out areas of Districts supporting her revolution) reminded them of me, which is rather flattering but funny. And weeks after seeing the movie, I was a little horrified to hear the remixed version of Katniss' inspiring a cappella call to revolution: "The Hanging Tree" all beat-ified is actually playing on mainstream radio stations.

Mi Hermana, who hasn't read the HG books, was highly disturbed by the scenes of Peeta's psychological struggles. She said she's been watching too much Dora the Explorer, Super Why, and My Little Ponies in the past few years to dive full-scale into a movie about violently overthrowing an oppressive system...

... and yet she was completely fine watching The Eagle, a highly forgettable movie about the 9th Legion in Britain. We watched it on Netflix back-to-back with Centurion, so we might have overdosed on B-quality films about the famous Roman legion lost to time somewhere in the mists of Scotland. The unexpected role of Jamie Bell (who we last saw in Billy Elliott) was one of the only highlights. Like most stories about Roman Britain, it had to bridge the political and cultural divide between occupier and occupied with some sort of hint that the eventual melding of the two would solidify into what we now see as the indomitable British bulldog spirit.

While I was critiquing the history, Mi Hermana the linguist was critiquing the lack of adequate explanations as to how all the different characters from the polyglot Empire were actually communicating.

Fun times.