FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

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Based on the 1875 novel by Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd was, as you might suspect, attended by me and four other middle-aged women, all of whom reeked of English degrees and irrelevancy. Still, there was much to be learned from this movie. Too bad the people who need to learn from it probably won’t see it.

To wit: young single women (who should already know all the below things from seeing, as I keep urging you to do, He’s Not That Into You, a must-see).

Because young single women won’t see this, I offer a short list of insights to save them from lives of misery and what-ifs.

1. Don’t marry a man because of how handsome he is in his military uniform. You should have learned this from the Lydia Bennett-George Wickham disaster, but you didn’t. Because you think your soldier is different, and no one understand him like you do, and isn’t he handsome? Yes, he’s handsome, and probably no one understands him they way you–you mature thing, you–do, but don’t marry him because of the uniform. Lots of people have these uniforms, and most of them are not for you, dear.

2. Don’t marry a man because when he kisses you, you get that melty feeling inside. That is the feeling that accompanies kissing, so don’t imagine that just because you get that feeling from this particular hunk o’ man that he is the man whose last name you should now suddenly practice signing as your own future surname. This particular feeling will present itself again and again with each new person you kiss. Don’t base your life decisions on this particular biological response.

3. If you have made decisions based on 1 and 2 above and now realize that these decisions were wrong and not in your best longterm interest, disentangle yourself and move along. The sooner the better. It’s hard at first, but it gets easier.

4. Don’t lead a gentleman on because you don’t want to hurt his feelings by rejecting him right away. Do the rejecting and get it over with. You know he would have no such qualms about rejecting you, so return the favor. If you lead him on by saying, “I’ll answer your proposal by Christmas,” you might find out that he thinks your are engaged and start doing all kinds of creepy stalky stuff like having things engraved with your first name and his last name, ala how creepy you were in #2 above by practicing the hoped-for signature. At least you could crumple the paper up so no one would see, though, so you are better than he is with all his obvious stalkiness on display.

5. If you are the proposer, and your proposee says, “I’ll let you know by Christmas,” this means no. Unless it’s Christmas Eve around 11:58 p.m. and his/her eyes are shining with joy. If someone has to think about it for several months, you should probably (a) not get your hopes up, (b) not want to marry him or her anymore, (c) and definitely not get stuff engraved. The answer you were looking for was, “Yes! Of Course I will!” and anything other than/less than that is not a yes. At least not the kind you want to go through life with.

6. If, before any of this happens, you meet the kindest, most handsome man on the planet, who adores you and begs for your hand, MARRY THAT ONE. Especially if he is a shepherd in the English countryside. Don’t wait around for the plot to thicken and bubble and explode in all that fire and abuse and stalking and death.

7. Don’t think that if you break these very wise rules, you will eventually get out of all your trouble and end up with The Gorgeous Hardworking Farmer, because likely you won’t. You’ll be stuck in some horrible relationship you can’t get out of because of custody or finances or family pressure. Do it right the first time if at all possible.

8. Having not done it right the first time, I offer these suggestions as observations, rather than rules, with enormous gratitude that I was able to escape when escape was necessary and able to move along when moving along was required and blessed with a second chance at great happiness, comfort, and peace, which I know not everyone gets.

PITCH PERFECT 2

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When I was in high school, the coveted musical group to be part of was the A Capella Choir. Which rarely sang a capella, probably because Mrs. Folden was such a wonderful pianist. Or maybe because we couldn’t do all those boom-clickety-snap noises with our mouths to accompany “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” with any reasonable believability.

In PP2, unlike at Brethren High School, white college students (token Black, token Asian) are able to replicate the entire range of percussion instruments with their mouths, having never lived (as many of my schoolmates did) in Compton. It’s ethnically and culturally amazing, really, but hey, progress since the 1970s.

Speaking of cultural and ethnic commentary, this movie is full of that, to a degree possibly more offensive than even my Compton-comment above. One of the judges of the singing competitions, in particular, is fast and loose with full-throated racism, sexism, size-ism, and so on, and is only funny because we are not laughing with him–we’re laughing at him, the bigoted turd. Even his judging colleague (Elizabeth Banks, or, as we love to call her, “Effie Trinket”) lets us know by pained facial expressions that she isn’t buying into at least some of his offensiveness, i.e., “Girls don’t belong in college; they’re all going to be pregnant soon anyway.” (Ms. Banks also directed this very funny film.)

The story is that a college women’s a capella group, The Bellas, is going to compete in the World A Capella Championships in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen after graduation. The film is about growing relationships, crumbling relationships, hard work, and devotion to one’s persistent nagging dream–that thing inside that says, “Yes, I can, and darn it, yes I will.” Hard work pays off, and the Bellas find themselves in the finals, going head-to-head with (I have to say it) the teutonic might of Durmstrang Institute, complete with a very scary Viktor Krum. Actually, I don’t know what his name is–but you know who I mean. The scary German stereotype who wants to tear your vocal cords out and set fire to them. And that’s just the girl. The scary man German stereotype was carved out of marble by Michelangelo himself and then wound up to dance and sing. It’s quite a show, and frankly, these people get robbed.

The sweet little American girls actually are little, if not completely sweet. the most memorable of them is Fat Amy, who is very comfortable in her fatness, and has to be so, since everyone is laughing at her fatness, which is mean and horrible, but inevitable, given the tight clothes and in-your-face attitude, because, dontcha know, fat girls s’posed to be all quiet and hidey, not have opinions and stuff. Certainly not dance. How dare she? How dare she own the name “Fat Amy” all proprietary and “You can’t judge me shut up and go away right now.” Ditto for the black lesbian who’s all, “I’m here to sing; get over it.” There’s an Asian girl I am thoroughly at a loss to explain, and I am pretty much terrified by her.

There’s some sexual innuendo. Not for kids. There were some kids in my audience. Not sure what the parents are thinking. But then, here’s a confession: when I had three toddlers, I once took them with me to see Chicago, because (1) I wanted to see it, and (2) they would never remember it. Fast forward 12+ years. Earlier this year, a 15-year-old said to me, “Mom, remember that movie where there were these two ladies and they killed people and they went to jail, but then they got out and had a dancing act?” And I said, “YOU WERE TWO. STOP IT!” Different kids have different skills, and the moral is, think twice before taking kids to questionable movies.

Oh, I almost forgot. The Clay Matthews moment is worth the price of admission if you’re a Packers fan. Dude brings it.

SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, starring all those wonderful people

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If you are a fan of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, run, don’t walk to your nearest theater to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. If you are not yet a fan, you need to see the first one first, because it’s all one story. Second Best won’t make as much sense as it should–nor will you understand the setting and characters as you must–if you haven’t seen the original.

Speaking of the story: A couple of years ago, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful opened in Jaipur, India. Seven intrepid seniors journeyed there from the U.K. to set up home in Sonny Kapoor’s hotel. Five of them are still there, settled in India and personally invested in the culture and community.

The hotel is prospering, and Sonny is convinced the time has come to expand to another property. He needs financing, and his search for capital leads him all the way to California.

Back in India, romance abounds. Sonny and Sunaina are engaged and planning an elaborate Indian wedding. Evelyn and Douglas are making timid, tentative steps around the possibility of maybe perhaps someday. Madge can’t make up her mind between suitors, Norman and Carol aren’t sure what is happening, and even Jean returns from London with a racy story. Who knew there could be such drama after 65?

Enter Richard Gere. More drama.

I am 54, so I don’t know if I love this story because it is a wonderful story, or because I’m old enough that the idea of retiring to such a place is increasingly inviting. I love the idea of starting all the way over after retirement to such a different (if ridiculously hot) culture. Of course, if the Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in Fiji, I’m all in.

That being said, maybe if you are young enough that the idea of your grandparents falling in love makes you feel you are covered with cooties, don’t bother with this, but I’ll definitely be seeing it again.

CHAPPiE, starring Dev Patel and Sharlto Copley

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Brought to you by the people who gave us the miraculous District 9, CHAPPiE tells the story of a police robot who gets the ultimate reboot–real consciousness.

We’re back in South Africa at a large weapons factory, CEO’d by Sigourney Weaver, a casting choice I found distracting (much as I found the odd little part played by Matt Damon in Interstellar distracting). Dev Patel plays Deon Wilson, the inventor (“Maker”) of the police robots now patrolling Johannesburg. Crime has dropped precipitately, because the police robots are bad news and don’t ever back off or break down.

Except Scout 22, which is always having bad luck and getting shot by RPGs. Scout 22 is about to be demolished, but is saved at the last moment by Deon who has cracked the hippocampus and made a true AI memory stick. Alas, just as he is going to animate Scout 22, he is abducted by Ninja (played by Ninja) and Yolandi Visser (played by Yolandi Visser, odd, but whatever, the movie is good enough to overlook small naming issues like this. Though how wild would it have been if Sigourney Weaver had played a character named Sigourney Weaver?). (Ninja and Yolandi sing a bunch of the songs too. They are a power couple in South African music and theater, apparently, and I say, welcome to Hollywood.)

When the AI flash drive is put into Chappie, he is no longer a robot, but a learning individual. He never does play with blocks, alas. He’s a cool gangsta robot once he gets his bearings, and that is where everything goes sideways.

Fortunately, Deon has taught Chappie a rudimentary moral code. Most importantly, Chappie learns about love.

Not for children–lots and lots of language, and some startling cave-dwelling-like drawings.

Sharlto Copley, who was amazing as Wickus van der Merwe in District 9, returns as Chappie, in his first motion-capture role. He also voices Chappie, and it’s endearing.

If you haven’t seen District 9, you might want to see CHAPPiE first and then watch District 9 on video, because District 9 is better than CHAPPiE, so it would be like having dessert last. CHAPPiE is, however, very good, and I look forward to seeing it again. Twice is not enough.

CINDERELLA, starring Lily James

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I’m not sure I have much to say here. Cinderella is a lovely movie with lovely people and a lovely setting, following the Disney storyline very closely, with a little bit of new intrigue to make the ending interesting.

The dress is extremely beautiful (a deeper blue than in the picture above), as are the glass slippers, which, Fairy Godmother explains, are very comfortable. Good to know. Otherwise, ouch, amirite?

Naturally, everyone will want to see this movie. It’s beautiful, sweet, heartwarming, and has a satisfying ending. That said, it’s not my favorite Cinderella. I liked Ever After and the one with Brandi as Cinderella (Whitney Houston as the godmother, Bernadette Peters as the stepmother) better. I may even like the Disney cartoon better, because it doesn’t bother me so much that a cartoon Cinderella would love a mouse named Gus Gus, while it sort of did bother me that a live Cinderella does. Lucifer the cat is also funnier and more evil in the cartoon.

Lily James is simply lovely as Cinderella, and I don’t think a better casting choice could be imagined. Also from our favorite morally-conflicted drama, Assistant Cook Daisy (Sophie McShera) is stepsister Drizella. Cate Blanchett is a wicked, wicked stepmother. Helena Bonham Carter is the fairy godmother. (Stay through the credits and you’ll get to hear her sing.)

It’s all good (did I mention lovely?), but you’ve seen it before. Take your kids or grandkids. They’ll love it.

Disney’s all about these live-action remakes now. Beauty and the Beast is coming up with Emma Watson in the lead role. I don’t blame them, especially now that technology has caught up to vision, and we can have Gus Gus the fat mouse do his thing and lizards convincingly turn into footmen. Still, it might be nice if they’d tinker with the storylines a bit more, to keep our interest a little better.

[NOTE: The short feature prior to the movie is worth the price of admission. It’s Frozen Fever. Elsa wants to give Ana the best birthday party ever, even though she (Elsa) has a wicked cold. It’s magical and fun.]

BLACK OR WHITE, starring Kevin Costner

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I saw this movie a couple of weeks ago and thought it was forgettable and dull, and that, if you wanted to watch a movie with the exact same plot only 1000 times better, you should watch Losing Isaiah, a heartbreaking film about poverty, addiction, and loss.

But things nag at me, and it has inevitably happened that I have to sit here and rant a little about this movie, which P.S. is not Mr. Costner’s worst. (We hope the upcoming McFarland will be his best, as it looks aspirational and even triumphant in the trailers)

Synopsis: little bi-racial girl who identifies as black lives with her white grandparents because her mother is dead and her black father never manned-up and took her. He’s been in jail, see? The white grandmother dies, so now black grandma wants custody, so everyone lawyers-up and here we go.

I have serious problems with this movie:

First, this movie is filled to the brim with stereotypes. The rich white lawyer and the poor black ex-con, for starters. The idea that men can’t raise children as well as women can. The idea that a large family is better than a small family, that a drug addiction is worse than an alcohol addiction, that black men will inevitably leave, but white men will be responsible, and that, in the end, we’ll all work together. Of course the black man will still be gone, because black men are losers like that.

Second, the courtroom scene was chock-full of stupid. For example, there is no guardian ad litem advocating for the little girl, Eloise. There are no expert-witness child psychologists. Eloise herself is questioned by no one. Easy enough to ask her, “Eloise, where would you like to live?” She’s not four. She’s eight or nine years old, and her opinion would be sought, if not necessarily followed. Black Grandma (lovingly played by the wonderful Octavia Spencer) shouts from the petitioner’s table repeatedly, which again is a caricature of loud black women who get all up in your face.

Also wrong in the courtroom scene is that White Grandpa is accused of calling Eloise’s father a racially-charged name. He admits that he did use the name, when in fact he did not.

Third, I don’t know about you, but if my husband was killed in a car accident, the very next day I would not be up to pretending it hadn’t happened so I could take my grandchild to school without letting on that grandpa was dead. Mr. Anderson (Mr. Costner) does just this. Weirdly, however, as soon as school is over, he tells her. He never expresses any believable level of loss over the death of his wife. He drinks a lot, and maybe the drinking makes up for expressing grief? I don’t drink, but I have been an emotional eater, and I’d like to tell you here that the emotional eating after catastrophic loss has never impeded my need or ability to sob my heart out.

Fourth, there is the bizarre matter of the swimming pool incident. Mr. Anderson is minding his own business in his own backyard-with-giant-pool. An intruder comes and beans him in the head with a flower pot or something (I forget). Blood is pouring out of his head, and then the intruder pushes him (or he falls, I forget) into the pool. Wait for it–we see a line of dark blood clotted to his forehead. Now, people, come on. Unless he has some anti-hemophiliac disease, blood doesn’t clot and stick instantaneously. When you have a fresh bleeder and you fall into the pool, the fresh red blood diffuses in the water, and the viewer would see a clean cut with maybe a lot of new blood flowing out. I know this is gross, but if you are making a movie, you should attend to details like this. (“Make-up! Get a stick-on blood thingy over here for Mr. Costner’s pool stand-in! Make sure it’s black, so it shows up under water.”) I can’t even about the quick-clotting blood.

Of course, in the end everyone is friends, but Daddy has to go find himself again for who knows how long. Because black men.

Am I clear: stupid movie full of stereotypes, and that’s not helpful to the conversation in America today.

May I recommend for your viewing once again Losing Isaiah? In this brilliant movie, Halle Berry plays a crack-addict mother who (rightly) loses her newborn son into the social services system. Her poverty and addiction are powerfully portrayed as is her recovery. But wait, the white family who adopts Isaiah is also full of dysfunction on a marriage-shattering level. Because things aren’t black or white–life is messy and people screw up, and then (this may be worse), they recover. They move on, and then they want what was theirs, and they want it now. Sometimes compromise is in order.

As an adoptive mother, I cannot imagine the agonies of having to give back a child. Can. Not. Imagine. It. This is portrayed far better in Isaiah than it is in Black or White, which, for all it’s trumpeting of “This is not about black or white” really is.