Tuesday, February 1, 2011

B+ X 3

Funnily enough I've watched three films in the past two days and I would classify each as a 'B+' work.  One film is an intriguing documentary about gender, family, and escaping the past.  The other is a classic war-themed film about boxing, Pearl Harbor, gentlemen's clubs, and the army.  The third is an art-house Peruvian film about a girl diseased from her mother's breat-milk who has a potato in her vajinko.

WHAT?!  Yes.  A potato.  Carry on. 

So here is some justification of the grades:
Prodigal Sons (dir. Reed, 2010)

At first glance I thought Kimberly Reed's documentary Prodigal Sons was going to be about family dynamics and a love for Orson Welles.  How naive I was.  Reed's documentary begins as Kimberly Reed (who years ago was Paul McKerrow) returns to her hometown for the first time in years to attend her High School reunion.  Her father passed away a year earlier and her identity as a transgendered woman has been spread throughout the town and her family.  She is the first-born but second child to the McKerrow family.  Her older brother Marc was adopted about 11 months before she was born, and there has been MUCH rivalry between them since, especially since Kim has basically killed contact with Marc since leaving home, and Marc had a brain injury years ago that has left him with extreme mood swings and a sense of inadequacy.  The film hits so many more themes than that and is at times funny, heartbreaking, and immensely scary. 

Marc and Kimberly

However it's that inconsistent focus that is my problem with the film.  At a brisk 90 minutes director and star Reed tries to cram in many different plotlines and emotional upheaval.  I was left wondering what exactly I'm supposed to take away from the film.  Is it the relationship between Marc and Kimberly that's the focus? (I think it's that) Is it Marc's struggle with his insecurities and brain injury?  Is it Kimberly trying to accept her past life as a man?  Is it their grief over their father that they've yet to overcome?  Yet the film itself is a great piece of work, and quite a satisfying experience.

Grade: B+

From Here to Eternity (dir. Zinnemann, 1953)

From Here to Eternity is undoubtably one of the most recognizable classic war films around.  It's inspired countless films from Armageddon to Volcano to Titanic in the way it focuses on the characters and their plights and problems long before the war (or in those film's case the disaster).  But where this film succeeds is how deeply those character's problems are felt long before we have to worry about their possible death at the hands of ***SPOILER***Japanese fighter pilots***ENDSPOILER***.  The IMdB plot summary goes: "In 1941 Hawaii, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his captain's wife and second-in-command are falling in love".  Much like Prodigal Sons though, the film is much more than that.  Although Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is severly punished for not wanting to box, his story is much more about his falling in love with the gentlemen's club worker Alma 'Lorene' Burke (Donna Reed, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work here).  That plotline as well as Frank Sinatra's Angelo Maggio is what kept my rapt attention during the film's two hours.  The plotline that didn't keep my attention is the film's most well-known: the love affair between Burt Lancaster's Sgt. Milton Warden and Deborah Kerr's Karen Holmes.  This is the affair that brought us this classic image:

And yet for all the attention spent on these two lovers, I felt them completely devoid of chemistry.  And the affections were so rushed and unbelievable that there was no way for me to get attached, especially when Prewitt's love with Alma is that much more enticing.  I mean, Lancaster's Sgt. really only like her because she is the Captain's wife and is absolutely beautiful.  That's pretty much it.  It's this storyline--which gets a LARGE amount of screen time--which really detracts from the film, earning it just a B+ when it could so clearly be an A.

Also, it's no surprise this film won Best Picture at the Oscars during its competition year.  It ticks almost every academy box: tragic love affair, underdog story, hooker with a heart of gold, World War II, military, surprise emotional ending, singer turned glorious actor, exotic locale, American.  It would be a shoo-in even today.  But it does have one advantage: MONTGOMERY CLIFT  ***swoon***

Grade: B+


The Milk of Sorrow (dir. Llosa, 2009)


Oh, The Milk of Sorrow.  I do not have the appropriate words to describe how enchanting this film is.  The plotline reads: "Fausta is suffering from a rare disease called The Milk of Sorrow, which is transmitted from the breastmilk of pregnant women who were abused or raped during or soon after pregnancy.  While living in constant fear and confusion due to this disease, she must face the sudden death of her mother."  That only truly describes the first five or ten minutes.  After Fausta's mother dies she seeks to bury her in the village which she grew up, so takes a job as a maid for a famous concert pianist.  This film does follow that plotline but it's truly about following Fausta as she tries to live in a world that to her is threatening and cruel.  The way the film was shot is absolutely stunning.  It's a breathtaking film.  Some random shots:

BEAUTIFUL.  And the whole film is shot like this.  Most of the shots linger for awhile, and it adds a calm and tender atmosphere to the whole experience.  The film saunters on, in such a way that it's hypnotizing to watch.

And Fausta is a very interesting character.  As I said earlier, she does have a potato lodged in her vajinko, but why isn't ever quite explained.  The doctor does let us know that it is slowly growing and making roots, but we can assume as audience members that it's a symbol for her fear of men and the possibility of rape. 

But it's these oddities: the potato, the milk of sorrow, that aren't the focus of the film.  It's about a woman making her way in a culture dominated by men who since the day she was born has been told that she harbors an innate fear of basically everything.  Therefore she's terrified to walk anywhere alone, and hardly speaks except to sing, which brings out emotions rarely seen from her otherwise.

My only problem with the film is that for all of its beauty and interest it just didn't hold my attention the way I had hoped it would.  I am so very tempted to give this film an A-, but sometimes my gut doesn't feel for something the way I feel it should, and that's true in regards to this film.  It just didn't grab me as much as I hoped it would. 

Grade: A tentative B+

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