Archive for Thursday, January 27, 2005

Movies help brighten dark and dull winter days

January 27, 2005

Looking back over the past two years, it seems I often start this column with mention of the weather. I used to tease my mother about her constant watch of the temperature and the forecast, and now I find myself doing the same thing.
Today we are once again in the grip of the arctic cold that has pushed into our area accompanied by a howling wind that chills to the bone. It whistles outside my window as I write this sitting at my desk with a scarf around my neck. Even though the thermostat is at 70 degrees, the house feels much colder.
Not only have we had many days of below freezing temperatures, we have also suffered through endless gray days with only a rare slice of sunshine to relieve the monotony. I thought about bragging a little about our legacy of pioneer toughness as we ignore the cold and go about our business as usual, but I was silenced after reading about that godforsaken little town in northern Minnesota where temperatures reached 51 degrees below Fahrenheit last week.
One thing I have found those gray days after Christmas good for is going to the movies. Even my book group, which is almost sworn to avoid talk about anything other than books, fell into conversation of the latest and greatest they had seen. I also saw friends and neighbors at the theater. Seems we must have a distraction from the cold especially if the Kansas Jayhawks aren't playing (did you catch that dreadful loss to Villanova?).
There are a flock of good movies out now with awards being given and speculated upon. As of today, I have seen three that impressed me: "In Good Company," "Sideways" and "Neverland." I also watched "Closer," but I had trouble seeing why it has received so much attention.
I found I could actually empathize with the character played by Dennis Quaid in the movie "In Good Company." Having worked in the corporate world for many years, I understood how he felt like a dinosaur in a world taken over by technology and the "techs" that talked the talk and maneuvered for positions. When I heard the word "synergy" first spoken in the movie I groaned remembering the first time I heard an out of town, smooth-talking executive spout the same word followed by about a half hour of what I called "gooblegook." I remember asking my fellow workers at the end of such a meeting -- of which there were more than one -- just what had been said and they all shared the same comment, "Haven't any idea."
I looked up the word synergy in the dictionary and the definition read, "the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects." And I thought isn't "working together" just as good?
Which brings me to what I saw as the heart of the matter and the movie. It wasn't that the young were forcing the old out, because both had valid reasons to compete for positions. It was because plain speak, honesty, concern for the needs of the individual and humility were being chucked as old-fashioned and pseudo-sophistication, arrogance and the need to cloak slick business dealings in obscure language had taken their place.
Quaid, reminding the takeover kings about such qualities, risks his career, but truth wins out and -- well, you'll just have to see the movie.
The movie also takes you inside the family of the main character, which seems like many families we might all know. The twist in the romantic plot occurs when the main character's daughter chooses to fraternize with the "enemy" in the form of her father's young boss. The characters are all likeable, even the young upward striving executive.
Best of all, the movie is done with subtleness and makes its point without being preachy.
"Sideways" I thought was funny and real but I wouldn't give it the four stars it has enjoyed. Down to earth and perhaps a bit too raunchy for my taste, it portrayed the humor, loyalty and friendship that can exist for many years between longtime school friends. It was hard to imagine how a soon-to-be groom could act out so badly before his wedding day, but then I remember I am a product of another generation -- and a Catholic one as well.
"Closer" I thought was about a lot of navel gazing among four over-sexed individuals who mix and match partners -- none of whom seemed to have a grasp of commitment or loyalty among them. Without dismissing them as part of a feel-good culture, to their credit they appeared to be tortured souls as they interacted in the process of hurting each other.
One wondered if they ever went to work. All of the characters (Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman) were beautiful and delightful to watch, but I just failed to "get it" -- whatever "it" was.
Now comes the magical "Neverland" with Johnny Depp, who returns as my all-time favorite. Did I mention before that I came lately to adore Depp after having fallen in love with his character in "Pirates of the Caribbean?" He does not disappoint in this beautifully photographed biography of James Barre who wrote the famous "Peter Pan."
Clean-shaven and dressed up for once, you really get a good look at him as a "pretty face" -- one he has tried repeatedly to disguise in his movies. The young boys who are the inspiration for his famous play are excellent, and Cate Blanchett and Julie Christie (aging, but still beautiful) are totally believable as the mother and grandmother of the boys.
Barre's marriage to a striking, but proper young woman seemed doomed by his devotion to his career, which seemed to be in a writer's neverland until he meets these boys who inspire him with their playful innocence of childhood.
In the movie, when one of the little boys is asked if he is Peter Pan, he points to Barre and says, "No, he is."
Wouldn't we all like to stay in the enchanted land of "Neverland" where fairies are real and adults do not intrude, and where there are no rules or regulations? But we also remember the boys in the play are called the "lost boys" and sooner or later everyone must grow up.
So there you have it. The movie passes that were Christmas gifts are all gone and so is my walk through the illusions of Tinsel town that has gotten me through the gray days and the long nights of winter.
There is hope however. Have you noticed the days since the Dec. 22 solstice are getting longer? Before you know it we will be complaining about the heat.

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