Fortunately for me, this was not some sort of manic relay in which I watched a whole bunch of movies all at once. These were spread out in the course of the past few days. In a nutshell–for those of you who have too little attention to spare for the rest of this post–the first film was excellent (you can bring the kiddies with you), the second film was also excellent (okay for kiddies although the older ones might appreciate and understand it better), the third film was so-so (kiddies somewhat iffy, depends on how much violence and weirdness you want them to see), and the fourth film was brilliant in a tragically funny way (definitely not for the kiddies because of adult themes).
Finding Neverland. What exactly inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan? With the bomb of his latest play and his marriage on the rocks, Barrie retreats from his problems to befriend a widow and her four sons. Barrie and the boys immerse themselves in a make-believe world of pirates and fairies. Johnny Depp, who plays J.M. Barrie, is amazing as the unflappable and serious yet mischievous playwright. Comparing this role to his previous roles–say Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean–you could swear that this was a different actor.
It is interesting to ponder–exactly who in this movie are grown-up? Who’s not grown-up? Who wishes to not be grown-up? Who has never been grown-up? The only real villains in this film are “grown-up” problems which prevent people from ever finding “Neverland”. And who did Barrie base Peter Pan on? Although one of the kids was named Peter, Peter Pan’s very character is Barrie himself. There’s hardly any romance in this film, but I have to be blunt and say that emotionally, Finding Neverland is bordering on chick flick sappiness. There was hardly a dry eye in the audience when the credits finally rolled. And yes, even I was crying–and I almost never cry.
Kontroll. This bizarrely beautiful and allegorical Hungarian film is destined for cult greatness if it never catches on with the wider public. Atmosphere-wise, it’s sort of like Dark City with a pulsing electronica soundtrack. The setting was entirely filmed in an Eastern European subway system. First, we’re introduced to a mystery: who’s pushing so many people onto oncoming trains? But the focus quickly shifts to a gang of ticket inspectors–their antics, adventures, incompetence, and struggles with the uncaring subway-riding public. Being a ticket inspector is a low, demeaning job and it is no wonder when one inspector finally “goes postal” when the stress is too much for him.
Much of the film is symbolic too–owls, crawl spaces, “riding”, the mysterious black figure who pushes the jumpers, the girl in the bear suit. There’s a lot to think about. Although some people might describe the film as “an investigation of post-Communist uncertainties”, I see it as a metaphor for much of life in general. Aren’t we all trying to stay one step ahead of failure (“riding”–a game that involves running on the subway track but with the train not so far behind you) and death (the black figure) yet wishing for something better (represented by above ground which we never see in the film)?
Enduring Love. Based on a Booker Prize winning novel, this is the story of an erudite professor who goes out on a picnic with his sculptress girlfriend but ends up failing to rescue a man in a freak ballooning accident. Another man who is also at the scene of the accident takes the balloon as a sign that he and the professor share a bond. The professor’s life (and the film) progressively goes downhill from there. Is there a point to this film? Well, yes, but it was rather heavy handed. I was actually rather bored as the professor character went on his po-mo rants about the nature of love–is it meaningless and only biological to ensure the continuation of our species and does love only have meaning because we say it does?
Enduring Love is an examination of different kinds of love–from the rather mundane kind of love found between a couple to the unhealthy one-sided love of obsessed stalkers. I actually didn’t know what to expect with this film. While I was waiting in line, the people from the previous screening came out of the theater with stunned zombie expressions and kept muttering, “Oh my God.” One man described it as a “shocker” and warned some of his acquaintances who stood behind me to turn around and go home. Well, it wasn’t that bad. There are definitely worse movies. But in some ways it was a shocker. I am never going to think about curtains in the same way again.
Bad Education. In this Spanish film, the protagonist Ignacio puts down his experiences in a short story called “The Visit” where he dreams up revenge for a pedophile priest at his childhood school and remembers his love for his schoolmate Enrique. The story finds its way to Enrique who has grown up to be a famous gay director. Enrique tries to resurrect his relationship with Ignacio both on film and in real life. But who exactly is Ignacio? Is he who he really says he is? We at first see Ignacio’s adult life as envisioned by the short story, but what exactly happened to him? Who is the man posing as Ignacio? Why is he doing it?
Keep these questions in mind, but don’t think about them too hard. Bad Education is also noirishly funny with its soccer-playing priests, out-of-place recitals of Moon River, and crack-snorting transvestites. One could place this in the category of sex-with-meaning films which Michael Blowhard seems so fond of, but I don’t think it’s really about the sex. It’s about the future roads people take because of events in the past. I guess the best metaphor is a story that Enrique cuts out of a tabloid at the beginning of the film: On a frigid winter night, a speeding motorcyclists freezes to death. The funny thing is, two patrolmen continue to chase after him even when he’s already dead.