Sunday, April 13, 2008

Atonement, A Really Long Movie

Don’t get me wrong I am a fool for period flicks. I have watched many a Hercule Poiret film just to bask in the atmosphere of a perfect reconstruction of a bygone era, the golden light, the architecture, the furniture, women’s clothing, shoes, hats, every detail so perfect.., mmm, all so delicious that it makes me forget that many of my little grey cells die off while I’m watching a mystery filled with all the tension of watching clothes go around in the dryer.

I went to Atonement ready to be swept away by the story and James McAvoy (that adorable kid who was so sexy in The Last King of Scotland.) But what did I get? I got a comedy masquerading as a romantic tragedy set against the background of the bloodiest of all wars. It should have been a Nichols and May send up of romance and silliness set among moronic upper class twits, but no, we have to get all-serious here.

If you’ve seen Cold Comfort Farm you’re familiar with the matriarch of the family, she who has kept to her room for 40 or so years (ruling the household with an iron hand in absentia) because she was scarred by seeing something (who can say what: moldy fruit? sex? ) horrible in the woodshed.

In Atonement, the high-strung youngest daughter Briony spends a lifetime nursing her guilt over destroying her sister and her lover because of a misunderstanding. This is one of those films that would be 20 minutes long if her sister just said: “Briony, honey, that stuff you saw in the library, that was, well… hot, consexual sex . And when that little Lolita was being ravaged. Robbie was busy searching for her awful twin bothers who were hiding somewhere on the estate. Sweetheart, do something basic math, he just didn’t have the time to jump the child and find her brothers. Looking for a suspect? Look no farther than your brother’s unattractive college buddy.

You can't take any those terminally uptight Brits seriously. The whole looney Bunch: Briony, Mom, Celia, the oh, so anorexic eldest daughter of a mother who has migraines and has to lie in a darkened room pretty much all the time, (a woman who, as a child, was kept indoors in the summer by her father, because he feared the heat excited the lower orders to sexual marauding...oh how foreshadowing was that?) And talk about foreshadowing that friend of Celia’s brother has no chin, sure sign of a pervert. He can’t help but have sex with a zaftig teenager and later be trapped into marrying her. I think he owned a chocolate company, a sure sign of moral turpitude.

A movie this silly shouldn’t bring in hideous losses of the war in ghastly detail, making it a horrific experience rather than what it should have been, an episode of Wooster and Jeeves.

Only the Robbie, the son of the housekeeper is true and good. And before the unfortunate incident he’s on his way to Medical School and a bright future. Faced with a choice of jail or enlisting in the war, he joins up. We see him leading his men…. sensitive and true and beloved by regular guys. Just as weak-chinned men have dirty secrets, brave, injured heroes are sure to die of septicemia.

And speaking of Robbie, blue-eyed, so hot, so short, would he really write a note to, an upper class young lady, the girl of his dreams, that casually uses the phrase "your wet cunt”? I think not. We are asked to believe he mixes up the “I’m sorry I broke the ugly vase” note with the cunt note. And who does he give the wrong letter to, to deliver? Biony,who's mad for him and mad in the way only a very thin, self-obsessed 12 year old who writes plays can be? I don’t believe it!

What a great comedy this would have made...that is if Ian McGowan had a sense of humor or even a good ear. We Americans are suckers for the Brits. We lose our critical sense. We didn’t give this film an Oscar, whew, that was close.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: on my list of movies to see if you’re past your 47th birthday.

I’m wiping the tears off my face and Gail says to me: “Thank god, I thought that piece of crap was never going to end.”

“Well,” I say, striving for balance. “ I can’t defend it, but I enjoyed it. In fact I loved it. It isn’t often you get to see a movie where a very plain woman, full of gumption and good sense, hungry and jobless, forced to stand at a soup kitchen for a bowl of Dickensonian-looking porridge magically lands a job as secretary to a dippy pretty young thing with a complicated love life and a dazzling social circle, all within hours.

Whereupon this same woman changes the life of everyone she meets and ends up with a man her own age (Claran Hinds, fabulous Irish actor, last seen in There Will be Blood) who is a great success as a designer of woman’s lingerie, but finds it unrewarding and decides to go back into men’s socks because really their structure is more complicated than you think and who tells her quite matter-of-factly (it’s the same performance he gave in There will be Blood ) that he’s been looking for her all his life.

Really, what’s not to like?” I ask her. “How many movies have you seen lately when a 40 plus woman ends up with a successful, handsome man, with no obvious health problems, who’s like her same age?”

She says: “It was a great big boring mishmash of every 40’s musical comedy I’ve ever seen and it didn’t even have any good dancing in it.” I retire from the argument… she goes to the ladies room and meets a young woman who loved it and now she’s rethinking the whole thing.

Miss Palfrey Falls Hard

Don’t see this movie—a helpful blog for women over 47.

You can’t be too careful. I never go to a movie with a trailer showing bloody dazed looking people chained in basements screaming, “Why are you doing this? Who the hell are you!” But even the most careful person can accidentally watch something that will harm her even though it is British and stars Joan Plowright. I need a protective companion one that sits nearby and covers my eyes and rubs my cold little hands when movies turn bad.

Those of you who don’t have Tivo may be unaware that Tivo records programs that it thinks that you might be interested in based on other programs you may have watched while having a bad cold or when you briefly considered widening your knowledge of the animal kingdom and watched a program on the nature channel.

Tivo technology is not sophisticated; it cannot be programmed to avoid special areas of squeamishness. Mine are: animals, children and women in pain. Okay, I can’t stand to see anyone being tortured even if he is a man

And its no good closing my eyes or leaving the movie to wander the lobby until hideous scene is over. I always come back too soon. I was back before basement torture scene in Pulp Fiction and I returned to the Coversation just as the toilet is flushed and something bloody, comes back into the bowl. Or as they used to say on Monty Python: “Nobody expects and Spanish Inquisition” and I certainly didn’t expect to be cast into the a deep depression by a little Brit flick called Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Early in the film, Mrs. P. trips over a speck of dust on the sidewalk and falls in front of the flat of a young, amazingly handsome loser writer named Ludwig whose mother doesn’t appreciate him.

Mrs. P tells the young lad of her first date with her dead husband Walter in which they went to see Brief Encounter and both dissolved into tears and decided to marry on the spot.

Okay this is total bullshit, show me a man who dissolved into tears or even sat through Brief Encounter and I’ll give you my left ear…. didn’t happen. It’s a girl’s wet dream…. Later the young lad goes to video store and discovers a beautiful girl reaching for Brief Encounter at the same moment he’s reaching for it and because he doesn’t have a VCR, she invites him, a stranger resembling Ted Bundy, over to her flat to watch it.

Deeply in love, they ignore Mrs. P and she goes into a steep decline, verbally attacking the other lonely people at her hotel, and in a fit of pique dashes down the stairs and breaks her hip and then dies a few weeks later in the hospital, after having mistaken her young friend for Walter and telling him she’s looking forward to being dead and joining him. Well, she gets her wish and the young boy who we have to thank for this mawkish memoir gets a book out of it.

Okay it’s only a movie, but if we are asked to swallow the improbability of a straight man who cries during Brief Encounter, then why can’t we have Mrs. P recover from her fall, have a hip replacement and start running a squash camp for widows or a high class brothel or whatever… There’s too much reality around. Let’s put a stop to it now.

The Big Book on the Coffee Table

It’s never been so cold for so long... Suzy confides that the weather made her depressed and desperate. So desperate that she went out to one of those big evil bookstores and bought a tome on how to stay beautiful even though so ancient you remember when you could put a few gallons of gas in your Volkswagen bug for fifty cents and your breasts were so perky they stunned passersby.

I scowl at her. I’m above that kind of vanity, l lives on a higher spiritual plane, but I grab some post-its off the coffee table... I’ll just make a few notes I say, for a future book, a serious book.

Within seconds I have gleaned some astounding information... tips that will make a striking difference in my appearance. I am short. Some people, many people can look down on my head, even when I am standing. Only toddlers cannot see my scalp. That’s right, no matter how I fluff it, there are pink spots of scalp showing through my hair. I hate this, of course who wouldn’t?

The book suggests a spray. I order it online in "gray" it is not actually a spray, but a powder in a perforated shaker. I shake some of the fuzzy stuff on my scalp and gently rub it in. My god! My hair looks thicker. It feels kind of dusty but it looks thicker and since it’s so thick, no scalp is visible. I wonder how safe it is.

No matter, I’m on to the next tip. The author confides that when she was younger she could afford the luxury of a second tier of bras, the ones you just grabbed, put on and went with. No longer. Her drawers contain only flattering, well made bras, there is no longer any margin for error in that department. I resolve to do this, but I’m running out of steam, ordering a product on line seems to have sapped my strength. But I suck it in and grab every bra in sight, I don’t have the energy to discriminate, I take the good and the bad and throw them off the back porch, missing my neighbor by a hair’s breath.

She says we must buy Spandex, a spandex garment that you wear under clothing; spandex that molds your body into a perfectly smooth whole. Where does that fat go, where are those soft rolls of flesh? Gone, she says, gone! Replaced by a silky smooth flaw free body.

It seems to me that flesh has to resurface somewhere... ankles, elbow, terribly fat toes, and bulgy eyes? Will I resemble a French pug?

No matter, as soon as it warms up, I am off to the expensive lingerie store that is near the Viennese Café, but I will not stop at Julius Meinl even though the only other Julius Meinl is in Austria. I will not eat whipped cream and put too much internal pressure on my spandex, lest it turn on me, bounce me along the street... me and my body suit gaining so much momentum that we fly into space.