Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Parents Are Frazzled

Picture by Leo Sonnekus

Back from a relaxing holiday at Hot Water Beach and the pleasures of sandflies, sand in the anti-itch cream, bed and ears, toe-jam showers, teenage texting and wondering - in the middle of the night - where the bladder hell you left the torch.

Then there was still the weird image of adults walking to the beach with spades, passing the tsunami evacuation route signs, gathering on the shoreline at low tide like religious zealots to start digging for that heat rising up from two kays underground into the foam.

But there was also that otherwordly massage in Whitianga after reaching it by ferry, the hollow but oddly comforting sounds of bamboo scraping in the windbreak and, finally, sunrise at the edge of the world.

It was definitely time to get back to watching movies, and The Kids Are All Right was still showing, having garnered a best actress Golden Globe for Annette Bening. But is it any good? Well yes, going forward it's great entertainment about a lesbian couple who each have a child by the same, nameless sperm donor.

Bening plays Nic, the "male", alpha, controlling or financially stable one as a doctor, and Julianne Moore plays Jules, the more "feminine", insecure, less successful one as a landscape designer. As far as I'm concerned she should have got the award for playing against type, showing a more humane side to the usual kind of role she plays. Slightly New Age ditzy, as only some LA and Cape Town types can be, but with her heart in absolutely the right place.

But now her son wants to meet his donor father and the sister is old enough to contact him legally. A meeting is set up and much hilarious awkwardness ensues. Mark Ruffalo is allowed to play the sexy man he can be, as in Jane Campion's In the Cut, but once again he is emasculated.

The reason for this is that Jules falls for him, briefly, and they have amazingly funny sex, a welcome relief from the usually embarrassing dreck that Hollywood can dish up. Naturally this causes all kinds of trouble in the household, the family, and Jules has to sleep on the couch, lower back pain and all, until she apologises.

She doesn't, however, apologise to or reinstate the Mexican gardener she fired in a fit of guilty passion.

And when Ruffalo's character, Paul, offers an apology to the children and family, it isn't accepted. He is told to go and start his own bloody family, which is a point, but only half a point. In fact, from being a rather nice, easygoing kind of guy who makes the mistake of falling for a lesbian, he is vilified, and just to underline what a bastard he is he tells his occasional sleeping partner that it's over.

Is it a coincidence that she's black and that this just goes to show what a prick he is? Maybe not, but it is a little reminiscent of those Oxfam appeals to charity which feature black peasant woman, thereby implying that poverty and victimhood are the sole province of Africans.

So, from the start it's a very funny comedy, good entertainment, a nice light way to start the year; looking back it looks like needless point-scoring in the usual battle of the sexes, using family values (which will nevertheless have every patriarchal fundamentalist choking in his beard) as its weapon.

As far as The Tourist is concerned, just how the director of the masterful The Lives of Others ended up making this dated caper only Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck will know. He has tried to make an old fashioned romantic thriller in the grand old Hollywood style, but it ends up being neither and was deservedly ripped off by Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes evening.

Angelina Jolie stutters along in her impossibly high shoes, oozing designer gowns, while Johnny Depp looks more like an EngLit associate professor, specialising in the romantic poets, than a mathematician. Yes, the idea is that he affects this character, but it's not like he suddenly goes from effete to International Man of Mystery in his last few minutes of the film.

He and Jolie are ably supported by ex-Bond Timothy Dalton and Paul Bettany, growing in stature, and controversial playwright Steven Berkoff, growing in girth and his I'm-only-reprising-my-Beverly-Hills-Cop-villain-for-the-money smile. Also, it helps having Venice as a backdrop, but we all know that Angelina is going to go back to Brad and Johnny is going to go back across the border to France.

Then, for those who like their fare much less touchy-feely, there's Unstoppable, starring the man. Or rather, that's why I went to see Denzel Washington, in his fifth movie with Tony Scott, but he wasn't quite doing the Man on Fire thing this time.

Starring alongside Chris Pine, they are going to spend time in a goods train and work out their past and present resentments while trying to stop a runaway chook-chook with chemicals on board.

Will it be a good thriller, cranking up the pace in that classic Scott mode? Yes it will. Will our engineer and conductor do the business? Of course they will. Will we remember this film tomorrow? Of course we won't. Will people still insist on seeing it? Yes they will. Why? Because it's got the man in it, playing a little too subdued with his perfect teeth for anyone's good.

Neil Sonnekus

* Next week, The Fighter and The King's Speech, which had better be better than its virtually tell-all trailer.

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