Thursday, September 29, 2005

Roman Mythology

I have been watching/reading/spotting-before-I-can-turn-away a lot of press on the upcoming Oliver Twist, directed by Roman Polanski. Stephanie Zacharek wrote a glowing review for Salon on 9/23, praising the film's beauty and artistic sensitivity. I must admit, reading it, I felt a little queasy. Maybe it is that I have five planets in Scorpio (you know we Scorpios can really hold a grudge), or maybe it is that I'm overly sensitive to the subject of all child abuse, sexual or otherwise. But I am appalled at the glory and praise we heap upon this man.

Even more repugnant to me was this CNN article about Polanksi which depicts him as a victim of sorts. Though Polanski's people declined an interview with the article's author, the director is depicted as having been wrongly persecuted for 30 years by overzealous D.A.s and law enforcement agencies into hiding in Europe (where, apparently, sex with children is no big deal). The most frightening part of the article for me is the description of him today: "He lives in Paris with his third wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, and their children, and has slowly shed his reputation as a partier. Friends say he is a devoted father who remains young at heart." The article fails to point out -- so I shall -- that Polanski's daughter, Morgane, is a mere one year younger than the girl he abused in 1978. I wonder how he feels now, looking at her every day -- "devoted father" as he is, realizing how very young 13 really is.

I wrote a letter to Salon, which I doubt they'll ever print, seeing as how their own house critic loves, loves, loves this guy. Besides, their entertainment editor is too busy chasing after Kate Moss and her coke stash to be so concerned about one letter in protest of one little movie review. So I figured I'd speak my mind here. Because I can. So there.

Stephanie Zacharek's review of Roman Polanski's "Oliver Twist" evoked so many emotions in me, it was difficult to settle on just one. The fact that filmgoers and the international movie industry continue to laud this man as a brilliant, sensitive artist, to give him ovations at film festivals, to award him with Oscars, just kind of turns my stomach. Is our collective memory truly that short?

Have we really reached the point where we cannot hold our artistic icons to the most basic standards of decency? By his own admission in open court, Roman Polanski drugged and had sex with a 13-year-old child. He knew she was a child -- this was no "she looked 18 to me" misadventure. His obscene excuses -- that it didn't matter because she wasn't a virgin, that her actress mother presented her to him, that the girl knew what she was doing -- only serve to make his actions more despicable.

Roman Polanski has suffered more tragedy and misery in one life than anyone should have to. I would be the first to have compassion for him, had it not been for the crime he committed and his utter refusal to accept responsibility for it. I find this particular film disturbing in light of the fact that making it put children in the path of a man who, had he faced the music in California in 1978, would have certainly been required to register as a sex offender. It is fine that his victim has forgiven him. Good for her -- she deserves to be able to heal in peace. But his victim did not file the charges against him. She was simply the complaining witness. The case was entitled The People of the State of California versus Roman Polanski.

Perhaps Ms. Zacharek is too young to remember 1978. I am not. I was a year out of high school, and I remember this nasty business quite well. It was my first introduction to the reality that a man has different rights, and his behavior is held to different standards than those to which a woman is held. That goes double for a wealthy, famous man, with wealthy, famous friends.

As a person of the state of California who has yet to receive the justice that we are owed by Mr. Polanski, I refuse to see any movie, regardless of its "melancholy glow," which has been crafted by a man who drugged and raped a child. Given what tortures Mr. Polanski has said he experienced as a youth at the hands of Nazis, and his later encounters with senseless violence against his wife and unborn child, he should have been the first to be empathetic to a child who was clearly being exploited by the adults around her. Instead, he just took his own turn at exploiting her, in the most heinous of ways, then ran away and hid to avoid being held accountable.

A man like that has no soul. Art from a soulless man has no value, regardless of its temporal, superficial beauty.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Naked Chicken and Fall Movies

This is the time of year that the Naked Chicken loves to go to the movies. All the fun stuff comes out between September and December. Here are a few movies that the Chicken looks forward to and hopes are good:

Corpse Bride -- I love Tim Burton. I shouldn't. I don't know why I do. Maybe it's my unrelenting attraction to nerdy guys rearing it's nerdy-sexy head again. But I just think he's funny and kinda dopey and his stuff works for me. I really enjoyed The Nightmare Before Christmas, and recently Charlie and the Chocolate Factory salvaged a fairly dismal moviegoing summer, so I kind of owe him. Voice talent by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (who knew she had so much fun in her, anyway) is an appealing notion as well. I can only hope that we haven't seen the best of this movie in the ubiquitous television trailers. Release date: Currently in limited release

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio: This one I'm least sure about. I saw an interview with Terri Ryan, the woman who wrote the book on which this is based, and it seems intriguing. In the 50's television and it's advertising were in their infancy, and America was just starting to fall in love with the medium. The Ryan family of Defiance, Ohio is no exception. Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), mother of ten and wife of underachiever Leo (Woody Harrelson), struggles to keep the family fed and clothed in the face of bill collectors and repo men. She begins to enter the ever-present jingle contests on television, and, lo and behold, she has found her calling. As she continues to win ever more fabulous gifts and prizes, Leo becomes more and more resentful, seeing every victory prize as something he couldn't give her. He sulks and simpers and explodes, alternately, every time she wins. Truth be told, it was one line in the trailer that made me want to see this movie. Leo is hugging Evelyn and he tells her, "I just want to make you happy." And she says, "I don't need you to make me happy. I just need you to leave me alone when I am." Hear, hear, sister. Release date: September 30, 2005

Elizabethtown - Orlando Bloom. Kirsten Dunst. What's not to love? Okay, a lot, potentially. But under the direction of Cameron Crowe from his own script? Now, I ask you... what's not to love? Fast Times at Ridgmont High, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky.... oops... went one too far, didn't I? Oh, come on. It's been a while since we've seen an amusing romantic comedy. I'm not sure why this appeals to me so much. Perhaps because Tom Cruise isn't in it. I was desperate for a little romantic comedy this summer. Neither Bewitched (blech, pew) nor Broken Flowers (terrific, but dark) filled the void. Let's go see this together and hope it all comes out in the end. Release date: October 14, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- I've told every one of my book hound friends, including my own daughter, that I'll start reading the books when Number 7 is released, so I don't have to wait forever from one book to the next. That's the truth, too. But there's another truth here, one that I keep to myself. I kind of don't want the books to interfere with the movies at this point. I have an investment in this Harry, not the novelized Harry. I have a relationship with these children, with these wizards, with this Dobby. Nobody gets that. I'll read the damn books eventually. And I'll love them. But for now, just let me love these children, this Hagrid, these Weasleys. The trailers for this movie are captivating, because they flash through all three previous movies, allowing you to see how far these children have come, how much they've grown and changed. I am so looking forward to this movie, and I hope it doesn't disappoint me. (Prisoner of Azkaban wasn't so good, I'm afraid.) Release date: November 18, 2005.

Brokeback Mountain - This film is based on the amazing short story by Annie Proulx, and tells the story of Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger), two very masculine young cowhands who find themselves drawn to each other in a relationship that moves through friendly rivalry to friendship to a profound and abiding love in a time and place (Wyoming in the early 60s) when such a relationship can simply never be. The short story from Proulx's collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, is written with a gruff tenderness that completely lacks sentimentality and melodrama. Proulx's simple, straightforward storytelling style and her decision to keep the focus on a love so deep that it lasts decades keeps the story from being salacious or, worse, sappy. My hope for the movie is that it avoids those same traps. Release date: December 9, 2005

So, ever optimistic, the Naked Chicken launches into the fall movie season with a heart full of hope and a purse full of sour Jellie Bellies.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

THE CONSTANT GARDENER: A First Class Departure


If you have been tuning into this blog regularly, you know I have not had many happy moments at the movies this season. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a welcome joy. I seemed to be alone in my full appreciation for Broken Flowers, but then we've already established that intelligent, nerdy guys (yes, Jim, I don't care how full your luscious lips are -- with that haircut, you're officially a nerd) kind of turn me on, especially when they march to the beat of their own drummer.

Alas, aside from these couple of exceptions, life at the movies has ricocheted from unsurprisingly banal (Must Love Dogs), to embarrassingly bad (Bewitched) too deeply, profoundly disappointing (War of the Worlds). If I've seen other movies this summer, I've forgotten them. That alone should tell you something. Now that summer is waning and the kiddies are going back to school, the movies have started to fall back into the hands of the grown-ups, and The Constant Gardener is a great way to kick off that new season.

In this nifty adaptation of John Le Carré's novel of the same title, Ralph Fiennes plays Justin Quayle, a young, straight-laced British diplomat who has been assigned to travel to Northern Kenya as a low-level attaché at the British High Commission (BHC). Immediately before leaving England, he embarks on a passionate, whirlwind romance with Tessa (beautifully played by Rachel Weisz), a fiery activist, who proposes marriage on the eve of Justin's departure. Once in Africa, the Quayles each pursue their own interests -- Justin's being his job and his love of gardening, and Tessa's being her bating of the BHC and corporate opportunists whom she believes are exploiting the Kenyan people. Unfortunately, though initially deeply in love, the two separate courses of their lives seem to begin to pull on the Quayles' marriage, and Justin becomes suspicious of Tessa's close friendship with a handsome Nairobi doctor (Hubert Koundé).

When Tessa is found raped and murdered and the doctor comes up missing in what initially appears to be a roadside attack by local bandits, rumor and innuendo from his associates at the BHC only serve to solidify Justin's conviction that his wife was being unfaithful. Still, his devotion to her, and his gradual realization that no one in his life is as he assumes they are, drives Justin to seek out the truth about Tessa and the "other" life she kept so furtively hidden from him. The more Justin delves into Tessa's murder, the more nervous he makes his friends at the BHC, who actively discourage him from asking questions for his own sake.

I'm not one of those women (rare as we may be) who is all gaga over Ralph Fiennes. He has always been a bit to reserved for my tastes. Still, Fiennes is very powerful in the role of a man who only discovers who his wife is after she is dead, and realizes that she was a remarkable and complex woman, very different from the one he thought he'd married. Fiennes creates a Justin Quayle who is very British, very withheld, very intact, until he loses the one thing he never realized he had -- the love of his life. His grief makes him raw and his loss makes him disoriented and determined. Fiennes shows us that in a very subtle, very controlled way, which works beautifully for the character.

Weisz' Tessa is everything Fiennes' Justin is not. Vivacious, socially charming, funny, exuberant, passionate. However, there is an air of danger about her from the beginning. The first scene in the film is a good-bye scene, where we are introduced to the alleged "love triangle" -- Justin, Tessa, the Nairobi doctor -- and immediately, before any chance at innuendo, the audience thinks, "Hmmm… is she…? With him…? Are they… ?" It is a lovely set-up, very underplayed by all, and it sets the stage nicely for what follows. Weisz is charming without being cloying, and passionate without being overbearing (unless you work at the BHC or one of the offending corporations, that is). Her insistence on protecting the Nairobi people from clutching, grasping corporate imperialism is naïve, but sincere in just the right way.

Director Fernando Meirelles (City of God), working from a fine screenplay adaptation by longtime BBC TV writer Jeffrey Canine (Dempsey & Makepeace, Bodyguards, CatsEyes), stays true to Le Carré's book, moving freely backward and forward through time to unravel Tessa's life, before and after her death. As Justin comes to know Tessa, we do, too. We fall in love with the real Tessa at the same time Justin does, hopelessly post-mortem. Though I have not read the Le Carré novel, I consulted with someone who has both read the book and seen the film. He says that the one thing Le Carré could not capture in the book was the sense of Africa. Meirelles reunites with his City of God cinematographer, César Charlone, to do just that. The grinding poverty of the AIDS-stricken Nairobi village is addressed convincingly, but it doesn't beat us over the head. It is a backdrop against which people are living their lives -- mothers care for their children, children manufacture games amidst the masses of trash and refuse by the roadside, people work and scrape, seeking to make the best existence for themselves and their families here. I'm not an enormous fan of handheld camera work, especially since it's usually done so very badly, but it is used sparingly in this film and to great effect, making the action more immediate and intense. All of it is underscored by Alberto Iglesias' score and evocative performances by Kenyan percussionist Ayub Ogada on the original soundtrack (Amazon has some sample snippets worth listening to).

The supporting cast bolsters Fiennes' and Weisz' fine performances. Danny Huston is suitably solicitous as the Quayles' ambitious and somewhat creepy BHC crony with a hidden agenda. Koundé plays the charming, handsome Nairobi doctor with such elegance, it's hard to imagine that Tessa is not having an affair with him. Richard McCabe (Vanity Fair) plays Tessa's adoring cousin, Hamm, with a sweet earnestness. Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Underworld) has a small, but pivotal role as the smarmy bad guy British royal who masterminds the entire conspiracy from London, and as the modern-day Schweitzer with slightly slanted ethics, Pete Postlethwaite (The Lost World, The Shipping News) is as good as… well, Pete Postlethwaite (and that's pretty damn good).

Do not go into the theatre expecting something lighthearted and upbeat. The only thing uplifting about The Constant Gardener is that it is a rare (these days) display of fabulous film making and acting coming together with a very good script. The results are gripping and entertaining, as well as emotionally charged and unpredictable. It is, in the end, a poignant story of a man who loses his wife, only to discover how much he truly loved her and how little he knew of her.

A definite must-see….

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Tale of Two Funerals

Chief Justice William Rehnquist's casket, September 6, 2005, draped with an American flag, in Washington D.C.

Katrina victim Vera, date unknown, draped in a bedsheet and rubble in New Orleans.

"Death is the liberator of him whom freedom cannot release, the physician of him whom medicine cannot cure, and the comforter of him whom time cannot console." ~Charles Caleb Colton, English writer (1780 - 1832)

Rest in peace.