Cloud 9

Every once in a while you will see a movie that you know you could not have watched until you reached a certain age, an age that appreciates the idea of love and sex long into one’s “old age.” This is such a movie. I watched Cloud 9 last night on Netflix instant play and was engrossed from the beginning. This German movie (with subtitles)  explored the 30 year marriage (?) and passionate affair of a 60-year-old woman named Inge Werner.  She’s a seamstress  who sews out of her home. Inge meets an older man of 76 who comes to her home to have his trousers altered. They are instantly attracted to each other and one day, after delivering his clothes to him at his apartment they make love in the most touching, fumbling, unembarrassed, and abandoned scene I’ve ever seen on film. It was not perfect. Their bodies are shown in all of their aging glory. Young people will no doubt be grossed out. Even people in their 30s who still believe we shall be fit and “beautiful” according to society’s standards long into their 60s will no doubt be horrified.  But I was touched and gratified that it was dealt with honestly and truthfully.

I, for one, am extremely glad that someone has the audacity to show mature sex in all its grittiness and gloriousness. It shows that we are never too old for love and sexual activity and that sometimes things don’t always go as we neatly plan it to go. Sex isn’t a sure thing sometimes, but it’s merely an affectionate and loving expression of something much larger. There are different kinds of relationships and different kinds of sex along with them. Once Inge falls for Karl, she is torn between the comfortable relationship with her husband (and we are never told if they are married or not) Werner and the excitement she feels for the first time with Karl. We find out from the story that Werner helped raise her daughter, so we know he had come on the scene when she needed him the most. Inge has a close relationship with her daughter Petra and tells her about it. Petra advises her to keep quiet about it to Werner and not to hurt him but that she could continue the affair if she wants to and no one would no. She is happy for her mother’s happiness. From there, it’s an agonizing decision for Inge to do just that or to finally tell Werner.

What I love about this movie is that I know moralizers will predictably fall on either side of the issue. Those who believe that a 30 year friendship and comfortable relationship trumps excitement and passion will intone about the sanctity of marriage although, again, we are never told that Werner and Inge are married. Those who value open relationships as healthy will see the possibilities of carrying on with the affair as an added bonus to a comfortable life but would no doubt advise Inge to be truthful. When Inge finally does tell Werner, her agony is the real truth when she says, “I never wanted this to happen!” When Werner is angry she asks him why they cannot talk about it, and right there is the problem with their relationship. They live comfortably side by side and do not talk, share, laugh much, or even share many interests. They are comfortable. Just comfortable. One of the key issues in the movie, for me anyway, is that everyone thinks that the right thing to do is not to rock the boat of all that stability put in place, as if life doesn’t happen to you all the time and adjustments always have to be made. Humans are creatures who want nice, neat, packaged solutions and who crave stability and orderliness as something akin to “godliness.” Anything thing that upsets that orderliness is verboten. They all wondered about Werner’s happiness, but no one advised Inge to embrace her happiness openly and freely. It’s about what women trade for their happiness and the price they pay for it.

I will say that the ending was unexpected and very sad and bittersweet. I found myself wiping away many tears at the end. Life is messy and we can’t go through it without hurting people we care about or without hurting ourselves either.  Most of us plan our lives down to the last detail and stick with it, knowing that one upset of this ordered life may send us over the edge and we might have to confront messy feelings or thoughts. Some accept another’s prescription of life and try to follow that even to our own hurt and destruction. Life is less static than that and more fluid, if we allow it.  Some embrace openness and find love or trouble or sometimes both at once. But love, if allowed, will trump all else in the end. It may leave a painful path, but it’s ultimately our responsibility to choose our own path and accept the consequences once they come.

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Paranormal Activity

Why do people go to haunted houses that others create for Halloween? Because they know it’s fake but they want to be scared witless anyway. It’s called the suspension of disbelief to get the payoff in the end. Scaring ourselves and feeling safe at the same time is a human past time. And ghosts and demons and things that go bump in the night are just the ticket to help us get the adrenaline going. That’s what the new movie Paranormal Activity is all about. I know it’s fake, I love that it was made for $11,000, the couple who star in it are likable, and it delivers exactly what you think it will; a great scare after a suspenseful buildup. Don’t we all want to know what goes on in our houses while we sleep? What’s scarier than contemplating that? As for the movie, I haven’t heard audience reaction like that since I saw Carrie at the movie theater. Or even Jaws. Good stuff. I highly recommend it this Halloween.

District 9

District600Over the weekend, I went to see the new movie District 9 with my daughter. We were probably two of five women in the whole place, but we are scifi geeks like that. I was going to write a detailed review of the movie, but so many others have done the same that I asked myself, “why?” Go to Rotten Tomatoes for oodles of reviews if you want details. All I can add is that it is the most intelligent scifi movie I’ve seen in a while and while the camera action is hand-held jerky, it didn’t bother me as much as watching [REC], the Spanish original version of Quarantine. I definitely would not take my children under 17 to see District 9, if I had any under 17 that is. It’s sprinkled liberally with bad language, gross human and alien body explosions, and really tough scenes about moral choices that only older viewers should wrestle with. I can’t wait for Peter Jackson to produce a sequel. Yes, unanswered questions abound. But maybe they’re best left unanswered. Highly recommended!

Torchwood: Children of Earth

torchwoodOk, so being an X-Files fan, I had to watch Torchwood, a BBC program that aired over here in the U.S.  on BBC America. I watched seasons 1 and 2 and  have now seen season 3,  Torchwood: Children of Earth, which was a five-part mini-series that aired last week and over the weekend.  This was the second movie (and really the mini-series felt like a long movie) I’ve watched recently that dealt with the theme of aliens and children and the end of the world as we know it. The first was a movie starring Nicholas Cage called Knowing (link is to a review with spoilers) which featured an end of the world plot with alien “intervention” but-not-in-a-good-way kind of theme.

I’m always fascinated by literary tropes that I see running through novels, movies, and television shows and lately the theme has been the destruction of our planet and the consequences for us and our children, as well as possible rescuing scenarios. Well this isn’t a surprise given the global warming hysteria in the scientific community, but really, do the science/entertainment channels like Discovery, National Geographic, and TLC have to inundate us with shows that imagine the earth without humans because of this or that natural disaster: giant tsunamis, tornadoes, catastrophic earthquakes, sun spots exploding, etc. They present it with such glee that I am always left with the feeling that they wish it would happen to make their point, whatever that point is. All I am left feeling is, “Well, the world’s going to end. So what? There’s not a whole lot I can do to stave off a giant tsunami.” But I digress.

Back to Torchwood. For background, Torchwood is a secret Cardiff based  British government agency set up during Queen Victoria’s reign to investigate alien activity on the planet and to gather any alien weapons or other objects said aliens may leave behind. The alien activity is usually detected by the odd behavior of citizens which cannot be explained by other than supernatural or supra-natural means. There were originally five Torchwood members but the series began with the recruitment of another member, Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles), who as a police woman ran across Torchwood mid-investigation and became more curious than the average citizen should be.  Capt. Jack Harkness (played by the irrepressible and perfectly dental John Barrowman) is the real star of the show, however.  He leads his group into dangerous situations quite recklessly sometimes, but it’s understandable as he is indestructible. (The reasons for this stem from his stint on the Dr. Who series where he originally debuted).

The show is quite entertaining, but it’s possible to learn much from British culture by watching it. First, you can say far more racy words on British TV than you can American TV. Second, you can show far more skin. Third, the actors and actresses look more like real people than the fake ones we see on television and in the movies. Finally, I learned what CCTV is; the cameras that record all the goings-on of normal citizens’ activities during the day all over London. Torchwood uses this almost exclusively to track people and events they are curious about. However, what set this last mini-series apart was how Russell T. Davies and James Moran (co-writers) dealt with the plot of Children of Earth. The plot consisted of the head, not so reasonable, alien called 456 who has contacted the British government before in 1965. At that time they requested 12 children in exchange for an anti-virus that would help quell an epidemic of flu.  Capt. Jack was in charge of that operation, but unfortunately, one of the children got away and is now non compos mentis at an institution. He too freezes at the same time as the children, implying the necessity of his being “chosen” perhaps? He is targeted for elimination, as is Capt. Jack, for knowing too much about the aliens.

Cut to present day, where all the earth’s children stop at various times of day and at the same time to relay one unifying message that the aliens are returning. The alien does  return to Thames House where the Prime Minister has set up a holding tank for it’s arrival. It arrives and demands more children, 10% of the earth’s children to be exact. From there we are treated to, in my opinion, the best part of the whole series; a convoluted and oh so believable discussion among the governments about which children will be selected, from where, and by whom and how they all got into this mess in the first place. Capt. Jack is the only one who thinks of refusing the alien’s demands, but it’s not as simple as that and the resulting scenes are vivid and thought provoking. I must say that I was very impressed with the dialogue and the issues that it brought up. The acting was exceptional, as it usually is in even the cheesiest of British television shows, and it was time well spent watching it.

I get so much more out of intelligent fiction, whether in television, film, novels, or radio, than I do out of straight political, mostly vociferous discussion found in the news or those venues designed to “give us information.” Perhaps it’s because good fiction, done artfully, without obvious bias, and with attention to detail is far more intelligent and persuasive than main stream media and it’s air of condescension toward the very people it claims to want to “inform.” Art simply does it and lets you decide about its quality or judge its merits. it has no vested interest and if it does and it is evident, then it’s not good art. I greatly admire that in a program and hope to point that out whenever I can.  Kudos to Davies and Moran for trodding that fine line quite nicely and with great skill.

What I want to know however, is why this common theme of the deus ex machina? Why must aliens rescue the planet and why must the plot be intertwined with children? Remember when movies were are about children and Satan? Are we reflecting the cultural fears of adults? Is it because we are fast approaching an age in which God is no longer seen as in control of the world? Is it because children are seen as our best hope for the future but it must be elsewhere than earth? The common mentality that humans have fucked up the planet to such a degree that it should be wiped out and we should start over, is so common that one wonders how this much touted scenario affects our younger generation? Could this be why they have such an attitude as they do? Live now for tomorrow we die? Just some thoughts.

Blessings as ever.

“Perfume, The Story of a Murderer”

I haven’t done a movie review in quite some time. Perhaps it’s because most movies out there are merely exercises in didactic over exertion and those don’t hold any fascination for me. The best films are those that don’t hit you over the head with any message at all, but respects the audience enough to make it subtle AND, (and here’s the key word here) entertaining. Those who make films (and I would include all artists such as novelists, song writers, etc.) seem to fall into two camps; those who make it for the sheer artistry and storytelling and those who make them to teach us all a lesson. I much prefer the former category.

Last night I received Perfume, The Story of a Murderer in the mail from Netflix. I had never heard of this movie, based on the 1986 German novel Das Parfum and never saw it advertised and it’s been out since 2006. I am always fascinated about why movies do not make a larger dent in the public consciousness when they come out but just because I didn’t notice it doesn’t mean it wasn’t released widely. I am always annoyed with the movie industry and around Oscar time I am particularly peeved by the blatant politicization of movies every year. The movies released in November and December are always nominated for Oscars and all the movies that come previous to that are always overlooked. It’s a perfect setup that never varies. This is why I never watch nor do I have much respect for the Academy Awards any longer. Members of the Academy ceased to be relevant a long time ago, except perhaps as a mirror held up to their own faces. But I digress.

perfumeFirst, the movie is narrated wonderfully by actor John Hurt and this sets the tone for the entire film. It reminded me of the frame in Big Fish or the television show Pushing Daisies yet far darker and much less witty in intent. The main character of this movie is Jean Baptiste Grenouille who begins life as a poor abandoned infant in the dirtiest, most despicable part of France and whose remarkable sense of smell defines his entire life. The problem? He has no scent of his own. His main desire in life is to collect the essences of all odors, including the impossible essences of glass and copper, and apprentices himself to a perfumer  (a most brilliant Dustin Hoffman) who knows the logistics of distilling and mixing scents but has no talent for creating perfumes that sell. He makes the mistake of telling Grenouille an Egyptian tale of the 13 essences which make up the greatest perfume in the world. Now Grenouille is bent on finding this secret formula. To say Grenouille is an aberrant personality is slightly an understatement but you do have some sympathy for the boy. He’s had the hardest of lives imaginable. And something, somewhere went even more horribly wrong in the formation of his conscience. His descent into murderous ways is almost innocent. He wants others to love him as he sees people do with each other every day.  He has no sense of boundaries. He has no concept that what he is doing may be wrong. All he wants is to distill the odors of young women because he finds it the most irresistible and life-giving smell in his world. And, above all, he wants love. He just chooses the most anti-social way of finding the “essence” of love that he can; murder. He literally harvests the scents of women. In his quest he comes across the one girl that will complete his collection of essences and he is bent on getting her, despite the efforts of her father (Alan Rickman)  to hide her.

Ben Whishaw is perfect as the  tortured soul yet seemingly serene soul, Grenouille. The film is compelling in its portrayal of Grenouille’s existential despair in the face of being overlooked simply for being born and being scentless. Catholics will be offended by the portrayal of the French bishop’s caricaturish belief in the superstitions of the day and the movie’s semi-penultimate scene in which the town amasses to execute Grenouille but descends into a pheromone induced orgy instead is sure to insult many. But I am never prude enough to overlook the beauty and skill of the intent of the movie because of the content of some scenes. Do they serve a purpose? Yes, they do. It is enough.  This movie reminds me of Chocolat a tad bit although much harsher in tone and content. But the trope is the common one of someone coming to town and altering the perception of it’s residents and the town religionists forever. This film is more about religion in the face of a presence that cannot be precisely described as evil because it’s motives are the purest. Grenouille is completely unaware of his action’s wrongness. Wrapping your mind around that one and the implications of it should keep you busy after viewing. The movie is dark and gritty in parts but exquisitely filmed and beautifully rendered. We are plunged from darkness to light in equal measures not only in landscape but in Grenouille’s life. It is sad and beautiful all at once in Grenouille’s quest to be noticed, loved, and desired. And the final scene is a moment of magical realism that will leave you pondering for quite some time.

I would recommend it but don’t watch it if you dislike the dark and the gritty mixed with blood or if you dislike mocking of religion. I just happen to like all of the above especially if a thoughtful message is cleverly disguised in an artful piece of work.

“Greatest Movie Characters” sans Estrogen

Cool Aggregator lists the top 50 of the 100 greatest movie characters list. What I first noticed is the absence of women on the list! Oh wait, there are some women, but only three: a gun-toting, futuristic mother figure, an imaginary housekeeper/nanny, and naive girl who believes romance will solve all our problems.  The rest are a combination of male goofballs/sociopaths. What’s that say about us? Hmmm. Any thoughts?