Mike Kueber's Blog

August 12, 2012

Satuday Night at the Movies #41 – American History X, The Stoning of Soraya M, An Education, Marley, and Water for Elephants

American History X is the movie I was expecting last week when I watched The History of Violence.  Although The History of Violence turned out to be a good movie, it pales in comparison to the power of American History X, a movie about a California neo-Nazi (Edward Norton) who comes out of prison a changed man and then tries to get past his past.  As with most gangster movies, getting into the gang is easier than getting out.  A major weakness in the storyline is its failure to convincingly describe (a) how Norton went bad in the first place, and then (b) why he straightened out in prison.  But the characters are compelling, especially the buff Norton (who earned an Oscar nomination), plus his mom Beverley D’Angelo and his brother Edward Furlong.  Elliott Gould as the mom’s boyfriend is also good.  The Rotten Tomato critics gave it an 82%, and the audience liked it even more at 96%.  I give it three and a half stars, with a slight deduction for Norton’s two implausible conversions.     

An Education is a 2008 British coming-of-age movie about a 16-year-old girl in 1961 London whose life is “hard and boring” because her middle-class parents are pushing her toward a better life by getting admitted to Oxford University.  Then she meets a charming, sophisticated young man who sweeps her of her feet, and suddenly her parents see Oxford at unessential.  As the girl prepares to drop out of prep school, her favorite teacher makes a strong argument for staying, but then when she visits the headmistress of her prep school, she actually hears arguments that are counter-productive, including the “hard and boring” verbiage.  She asks why someone should spend their life doing hard and boring stuff, and when the headmistress can’t answer the “why?” the girl says, “I don’t want to be impertinent, but this is an argument worth rehearsing because someone else might want to know the point of it someday.”  At that point, the girl leaves school and the trouble begins. 

The relationship between the girl and the young man reminds me of Elvis and Priscilla, not only because of their ages, but also because of the way the young man seduces both the girl and her parents.  It also reminds me of the movie Wall Street in the way the older guy seduces the young idealist into a world of shortcuts.  This outstanding movie, which is based on an autobiographical essay by Lynn Barber, received a Best Picture nomination and Carey Mulligan received a Best Actress nomination.  The Rotten Tomato critics give it an impressive 94% and its more restrained audience a 78%.  I agree with the critics and give it three and a half stars out of four.

The Stoning of Soraya M is 2008 drama based on a true-story book that describes the execution by stoning of an Iranian woman who was falsely accused of adultery because her husband wanted to marry a younger woman.  I find it amazing that bullfighting is almost extinct because of its barbarism, yet stoning still occurs in this world.  In fact, just a week ago I read about an adulterous couple being stoned to death.  In addition to the stoning, the most disgusting aspect of life in the Iranian village was the way men and women seemed to hate each other.  The men were bloodthirsty in their punishment for Soraya, and even her father and her two sons joined in the stoning.  When Mitt Romney suggests that culture plays a large role in the success of a society, I can’t help but thinking that societies as backward as this Iranian village have no chance of successfully competing in the world economy.  The current dispute in France regarding its ban on Muslim women being fully veiled is but a small example of inevitable culture clashes, but I suppose they could co-exist like the Amish do in America.  Although stoning seems barbaric beyond belief, I wonder if others might think the same thing about capital punishment in America.  But the most memorable lines in the movie, which is uttered by Soraya shortly before she was led away to her fate, reveals an important difference between America capital punishment and Iranian stoning – “I’m not afraid of death.  I’m afraid of dying.  The stones.  The pain.”  Civilized society cannot condone torture.  The Rotten Tomato critics give it a score of only 55%, but its audience is more receptive – 89%.  I give it three stars out of four based on its riveting story, although there wasn’t much suspense or drama.

Marley is a 2012 biographical documentary of reggae singer Bob Marley, who died of melanoma in 1981.  In 1977, he refused to have a cancerous toe removed because of religious considerations (or a desire to continue playing soccer).  Although raised a Catholic, his Catholicism was supplemented or replaced by the Rastafarian movement, which is a Jamaican spiritual movement that worships the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.  Marley is my son Jimmy’s favorite singer, and Jimmy expresses admiration for Marley’s values, courage, and integrity.  I suggested that Marley was a talented, charismatic musician who grew up in a country where the 98% black majority was stymied and exploited.  Their only option was music or sports.  Rotten Tomato critics have scored Marley at 95%, and the audience likes it almost as much – 92%.  I agree – three and a half stars out of four. 

Water for Elephants is 2011 melodrama about a young man (Robert Pattinson), who is about to become a veterinarian before the Great Depression gets in the way, causing him to join a floundering circus as its unofficial vet and later falling in love with the ringmaster’s wife (Reese Witherspoon).  The movie actually starts in modern times with a 93-year-old man from a nursing home getting lost at the circus and then telling his story to the circus business manager – a la Titanic.  In the early part of the movie, the ringmaster (Christopher Waltz, who looks like Mitt Romney) comes across as a Romney-esque capitalist who is vital to the circus’s survival, but later he turns into a psycho.  The Rotten Tomato critics give it a score of 61%; its audience liked it a bit better at 71%.  I give it only two stars out of four because the story is predictable and Pattinson is not especially likeable.       



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