Friday, February 25, 2011

Winter's Bone (2010)

Wherein lies the appeal of tales of quests? Perhaps it is that a part of the human condition is an innate ‘striving-for,’ and for the vast majority of us the subject of our ‘striving-for’ is unknown (This is a point to be expanded on elsewhere). A quest has a distinct goal, and would furnish us with a subject to ‘strive-for,’ while the well-told tale of a quest might provide us with a vicarious outlet for our own unfulfilled and directionless ‘striving-for.’ It is this vicarious participation that accounts for our tendency to become sympathetic to the character who sets out on a quest, a sympathy that can allow us to ignore or downplay certain unpleasant characteristics that a protagonist may display. Of course, if a character displays noble or admirable traits, we may become even more deeply invested in the character’s fate or success, even if the character belongs to a culture that is foreign to us, and is the sort of character that we wouldn’t be able to come to know in the course of our lives.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), of 'Winter’s Bone', is the sort of character that many of us would be unfamiliar with. She lives in the Ozarks and belongs to a community that is insular to the extreme. Her mother is an invalid of some sort while her father is a meth cook who’s MIA, which leaves the 17-year old Ree as the sole caretaker of her much younger brother and sister. Their father, unscrupulous as all hell, has skipped out on his bail, which shouldn’t affect Ree and her siblings except for the fact that he posted their house and surrounding lot for bond; unless he is found, the house will be forfeited to the bondsman, and the family turned out. Ree, a modern day Stoic whose mask barely slips throughout the entire film, accepts her burden with barely a blink. “I’ll find him,” she tells the sheriff who's informed her of her father’s truancy, and although the movie’s barely begun, we know that she will.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Machete (2010)

Way back in September, I proclaimed ‘Machete’ to be a 'must see’ movie – or at least one that I was going to make it a point to see. I didn’t make it a point to see it in theaters, but I did catch it belatedly on DVD, a mere five months later.

Basically, the movie was all I could have hoped for. My expectations were for a surfeit of red corn syrup, large blades, and rock and roll - and 'Machete' did not disappoint.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baby Doll (1956)

Eli Wallach received a well-deserved 'Lifetime Achievement' Oscar this year for his prodigious career. He's probably best known for playing Tuco, the 'ugly,' of 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.' But in his first role, he won a BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer in a curious, genre-defying movie directed by Elia Kazan: 'Baby Doll.'

'Baby Doll' came about via a collaboration between Kazan and Tennessee Williams, and was adapted from one of Williams' one-act plays, '27 Wagons Full of Cotton.' The plot is simple. Archie Lee Meighan, played by Karl Malden, is a typical Southern cotton-ginner - what do I mean by 'typical'? His middle name is Lee - that should give some indication of his pedigree. Archie Lee is a middle-aged Southern man in the 1950's - bigoted, close-minded, and of the opinion that what the man says and does is right. He's in an arranged marriage with the virgin blonde beaut Baby Doll (Carroll Baker), who's promised (by her father, who speaks for her on his dying bed) to relinquish this one card she has over Archie Lee on her 20th birthday, which happens to be in two days. Until then, Baby Doll sleeps in a crib, the one relict piece of furniture in their decrepit antebellum mansion, and Archie Lee spies on her through holes in the plaster.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Will this offend someone? Probably.

Via Al Jazeera, a new Turkish action movie, 'Valley of the Wolves: Palestine' that is almost guaranteed to offend, not the least since it's about a Turkish Commando that must shoot his way out of Israel as part of a mission of vengeance, in retaliation for the Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla. But, wow - talk about an audacious plot.