Summer Vacation: Review

Summer Vacation is a 2012 short drama film directed by Tal Granit & Sharon Maymon. (Review will be available soon)

An Education: Review

Lone Scherfig's An Education is an extremely classy film - classy as in modish, classy as in overtly concerned with class, and both ultimately at the expense of digging as deep as it could into the gut ugliness of first heartbreak. It's about Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an Oxford-bound beauty in 1960s suburban London, the pet of an old maid-ish English teacher (Olivia Williams) and a worthy sparring opponent for her protective dad (a sharply funny Albert Molina), who takes a vacation from smart-girl responsibility in order to lose herself in the charms of the much older David (Peter Sarsgaard). David picks her up one rainy day and proceeds to insinuate himself into the schoolgirl's boring, middle-class life, charming her unsophisticated parents into allowing him to take their daughter on weekend trips, tempting her with the lifestyle of the full-time consort, and eventually endangering her virtue, her standing at her uptight all-girls prep school, and her future.

Oh, young love! When An Education works, it's because it's capable of recreating the insane fog of love, particularly first love, which always feels like last love. To the outside eye, Jenny is a foolish girl making choices with her heart and libido at the expense of her head, but in the film's most interesting angle, Scherfig and Hornby approach Jenny's escape to romance as a political decision. In a post-WWII world, an antebellum age between The Blitz and The Beatles, where the specter of mass destruction is very real just outside Jenny's bedroom community and her Jewish boyfriend is still an outsider, she feels she's making an informed decision to live life to the fullest while that option is still available to her. The proto-feminist option - to go as far as possible academically at the expense of expanding her horizons emotionally, with little potential reward in sight - is, compared to the life David promises of sports cars and cocktails and other shadily acquired luxuries, a death sentence. Watching An Education, you could only wonder why such a smart, rational, good girl would so easily abandon middle class morality and lose her head so many points along the way, if you've either never fallen so deeply under the spell of another, or you have and have opted to forget that momentary loss of control.

Ultimately An Education seems to take the latter option. After revealing the truth about David and Jenny's relationship, Education opts for a kind of willful forgetting about the ways in which youthful romantic obsession leaves its mark on relationships moving forward. The film resolves itself so easily that the last couple of scenes play as if there were a serious scene missing before the camera-drifting-off-into-the-clouds sign-off. Never, up to this point, in charge of telling her own story, Jenny suddenly reveals her inner monologue via voice-over in the film's tacked-on coda. Her "and life goes on" reflections are very sensible, very classy, and very weirdly cheery, as if this girl has casually pushed aside the "education" she received at the hands of her older boyfriend, as if it had never happened. An Education works as a fever dream of first love, but the wake-up is unsatisfying and incomplete.

The Invention of Lying: Review

The Invention of Lying begins with a voiceover by the film's co-writer/director and star Ricky Gervais, referring in the third person to his image on screen as that of a "chubby little loser." Various variations of this epithet will be thrown at the Gervais character, a failing screenwriter named Mark, throughout the film; even his love interest, the lovely but shallow Anna (Jennifer Garner), tells him they can't be together because she doesn't want to spawn "little fat kids with snub noses." Anna is brutally honest because everyone in Lying is - the film is set in an alternate universe version of a small American city in which not only does no one know how to tell a lie, but they're moved to speak each truth that pops into their heads. So, as seen on 123movies, on Anna and Mark's first date, Anna tells him over and over again that she's there not because she finds him attractive, but because she's afraid of dying alone. Their waiter greets them not with a welcome, but with the admission that he's "very embarrassed to be working here."

Turns out a world without bullshit is a glum one indeed. Unable to spice up his movie about the Black Plague with creative embellishment, Mark loses his job, and unable to make excuses about the rent, he faces eviction. He goes to his bank to withdraw the paltry remains of his account, when a crazy idea hits him: in a world of absolute truth, there is no disbelief, so if he tells the teller his account balance is higher than it is, she'll probably give him what he asks for. She does, and this sets off a chain reaction of lies for the greater good. The trouble starts when Mark soothes the fears of his dying mother by telling her that she'll live better in death than she did in life. When these lies about the afterlife spread, Mark accidentally invents an international cult that looks a lot like Christianity - to the point where the buildings erected for quiet contemplation of his "man in the sky" bear icons of Mark with his arms outstretched, not on a cross but presenting the pizza boxes on which he's scrawled his prophecies. And still, Anna won't date him. "Does being rich and famous change your genetic material?" she asks, without guile. He has to admit that it doesn't.

Gervais and co-director/writer Matthew Robinson don't exactly have infinite track to run with this premise, but they make the most of it, teasing both well-earned pathos and gut-busting laughs (the many indie A-list cameos help) out of the notion that humans naturally resist happiness. The mid-narrative segue into religious allegory is a bit rocky, perhaps because the rules of the game are so ill-defined; was there no religion whatsoever pre-Pizza Hut tablets, or no just no Christianity? Was there ever a human named Jesus Christ, and if his birth wasn't an epochal, calendar-structuring event, then what bloody year is it? It's more successful as a meditation on the paradox of success. Winning at one or two aspects of life may solve three or four problems, but it rarely if ever cures our biggest insecurities, and if the person you love prizes "genetic material" over all other attributes and yours doesn't suit their fancy, there's little your money can do to help you out with that...

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired: Review

I haven't weighed in on the Roman Polanski clusterfuck, because I feel strongly that I shouldn't add to the noise on any given scandale du jour unless I actually have something original, relevant and new to say. So far, I haven't. But in trying to find an angle from which I could approach the story, I went back and read my review of Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which I saw and wrote about at Sundance in 2008. Much of what I could say now about the complexities of the case (and particularly the apparent divide between Polanski's film industry supporters egotistically "demanding" his release and the - for lack of a better term - normal Americans who hadn't given thought one to Polanski in decades but are now all over cable news accusing Woody Allen et all of condoning child rape), I already said in that review. So I'm publishing a slightly rewritten version of that review below the jump. For the record: I had serious problems with the thread of Polanski apologia running through Zenovich's film, and I personally support his extradition and some sort of jail time, but would hope that there would be a new hearing considering the tangible evidence of judicial misconduct before he's re-sentenced. That said, I don't operate under the delusion that my personal opinion actually matters, and the coverage of the case has made me wish that others felt the same. People here in Park City are going crazy for Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. According to Variety, the film was courted by four buyers after its first screening last night (the Weinsteins nabbed international rights, but US distribution is still on the table), and not only was there substantial applause at this morning's packed press and industry screening, but I don't think I saw a single person leave the theater. For an 8:30 AM Sundance press show, that's rare.

So the hype train is rolling full steam ahead, but what do we actually have here? For me, Wanted and Desired convinces that this seemingly trivial footnote in cinema history is actually a story about the media's role in turning the very idea of justice into a farce. Zenovich goes some way towards crafting a valuable historical document, but the film's credibility on that front is weakened by its clearly imbalanced sympathies. It's a methodical but irreverent look at the legal quagmire and media scandal and that erupted in 1977, after a 13 year old girl accused Polanski of drugging and raping her in Jack Nicholson's hottub whilst ostensibly taking topless photos of her for Men's Vogue. Polanski admitted to having intercourse with the girl, but said it was consensual; the film tracks how Polanski's plea on a lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor was mutated by media-hungry Judge Rittenband, ultimately causing Polanski to flee to France in fear of being sentenced to half a century in prison. Zenovich sets up Rittenband and Polanski as polar opposites in the realm of media-mediated justice. Polanski, a public figure due to his profession but a media star due to a combination of charisma, bad luck, and his admitted personal "recklessness," is forced to face the reality that even in the anything-goes swirl of Hollywood in the 70s, absolute free will is an impossibility of public life. Meanwhile, hungry for his own taste of media attention, Rittenband drifted towards celebrity court cases (he previously chose to officiate Elvis' divorce), and allowed his obsession with controlling his own media image to dictate his rulings. Ironically, Rittenband's push for glory directly led to Polanski fleeing to France, where he was able to escape not just jail time, but the gaze of an unsympathetic media.

As Rittenband is dead and Polanski is still in exile, the film relies on old media clips and testimony from countless talking head witnesses, including Polanski's defense attorney and his alleged victim and Mia Farrow, who offer their perceptions of the two absent personalities at the center of the proceedings. Zenovich fills in the gaps between testimonies by literally spelling out the facts of the case on screen in titles. Most of these titles are eventually made redundant by Zenovich's talking heads, so I can only assume that the decision to keep them has something to do with Zenovich's desire to insert her own perception of the events. To be fair, the onscreen titles aren't the only place where the director makes her voice heard. Zenovich demonstrates a real knack for filtering commentary through her visual choices, as when clips from Polanski's films are shown out of context as cheeky counterpoint to the oral testimony, and she's masterful at spinning seemingly innocuous still photos into punchlines. Still, whether she's using found materials to make a point or speaking directly to us via words on the screen, there's a lack of criticality towards Polanski that borders on hagiography.

In Wanted and Desired, there is a deep nostalgia for the late 60s, the hippie-styled but unquestionably moneyed Southern California idyll that Polanski and wife Sharon Tate were in thick of, a full-time party irrevocably fouled by Manson murder. There is an implied sympathy for Polanski's own coping mechanisms chiefly and most creepily, the idea that A Great Artist who has lived through tragedy is entitled to ameliorate his pain via the fucking of young girls. Maybe most irksome, there is a shrugging off of Polanski's personal proclivities as endemic to the pre-AIDS sexual libertinism of the 1970s debauched jetset. Even as Zenovich is building a credible case that Polanski rights were perverted by the ulterior motives of Rittenband, she's undermining that evidence with a parade of excuses designed to diminish our perception of Polanski's actual guilt. It's very normal for Europeans to have sex with 13 year old girls! Also, Polanski survived the Holocaust and the Manson family, so cut him some slack. And ultimately, what 13 year old wannabe model in 1977 went to Jack Nicholson's house with Roman Polanski *not* expecting to get slipped a luude and sodomized? Oh, BTW - that judge sucked. For a film seemingly so critical of the media's complicity in abetting the myths of huge egos, Wanted and Desired uncritically indulges in its fair share of media-driven myths. The title Wanted and Desired comes from a quote late in the film, in which a friend of Polanski's quips that whereas in America, the director is a wanted man, in Europe, he's desired - ie: people want him around, they're attracted to his talent and to this idea that he's a hero who has faced down the greatest horrors of the 20th century: Hitler, Manson, American prudishness. Zenovich puts this idea of Polanski being an "attractive" person so much at the center of her film, that there's ultimately a sense that the doc is laughing at some cipher version of America for thinking that Polanski is a criminal, or even creepy, or even anything but desirable. When you look at it that way, the whole enterprise stops just short of saying, "If she wasn't actually asking for it, she should have been." This is all sort of fascinating to talk about, but I'm not sure it's good filmmaking.