December 16, 2011. Resolutions. Movies reviewed: Young Adult, Margin Call, Always: Sunset on Third Street 2

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 17, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

In a couple of weeks it’s the New Year. Just another date, actually, one day out of 365, but people feel the need to mark it with a vow or a promise or a resolution. (I like to name the 10 best movies of the year – I could just as easily do it on May 19th or something, but, you know, it’s the new year.) Similarly, a good friend of mine had one of those monumental life-changing birthdays recently, and because it’s a big symmetrical number he is trying to figure out what to do with the next decade – or 120 months if you like – of his life.

It’s something to think about…So, to fit with that theme, I’m reviewing three movies where people resolve to make some major changes: a Japanese movie about a writer who decides to win a contest so he can keep his son; a movie about financial firm having to decide whether to keep or sell their stock; and a comedy/drama about a woman who decides to win back her highschool sweetheart, whatever the consequences.

Margin Call

Dir: JC Chandor

Soon after a crash and burn lay-off at an investment brokerage when most of the middle-management are instantly made redundant and marched out the door, a young analyst, Peter (Zachary Quinto) discovers a discrepancy in the firm’s figures. Their vaunted foolproof logorhythm that calculates risk is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and there may be big trouble up ahead. All the upper-ups zoom in by helicopter to analyze the situation. Is there any value in their trillions of dollars of leveraged investments? Or is it all, as the CEO John (Jeremy Irons) says, just a bag of excrement? So, there’s a mad scramble to deal with the problem, before anyone else on Wall Street finds out the truth.

While billed as a thriller, it’s not. What it is is a very taut, tense drama about the financial world’s recent meltdown, told from the inside. The characters are portrayed as smart, rich, callous and competitive, rather than stupid, douchey, arrogant fratboys, but aside from a few – like Stanley Tucci’s hard-working Eric – they are hard to sympathize with. It’s mainly headbutting between the many brokers in the house. Great, very large cast, interesting story, high-level stress on an important topic, a disturbing movie, just not a moving movie.

Young Adult

Dir: Jason Reitman

Wri: Diablo Cody

Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a recently-divorced, big city writer in the “mini-apple”, the author of a series of adolescent romance novels. She’s shallow, egotistical and vain. She mopes around her high-rise apartment watching reality TV, sleeping with hook-ups, and waking up each morning in a drunken stupor in her Hello Kitty T-shirt. So, for some reason, she decides to change her life – to go back to her small town and win back her High School sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) whom she left 20 years earlier. So she grabs her little yappy dog Dolce and her mixed cassette tapes, hops into her little red car, and drives off to Mercury Minnesota.

But things aren’t what she hoped. Town folk refer to her as the Psychotic Prom Queen Bitch, her ex-boyfriend is married with a baby, and everyone in town knows exactly what she’s doing, where she’s going, and who she is. Only Matt (Patton Oswalt) — a short, fat, and nerdy boy who had had a crush on her back then, only to be gay-bashed nearly to death (even though he wasn’t gay) – has time for her. But things are looking up when Buddy starts saying romantic things and she steals a drunken kiss one night on his doorstep.

Young Adult is a pretty good movie — funny without resorting gross-outs or slapstick – and Charlize Theron is great as the faded, though still beautiful, middle-aged woman trying to reclaim her High School glory. The climax Is predictable but suitably discomforting. It’s also interestingly shot, with extreme close ups of her daily life – seeing countless mani-pedis with 40-foot high toenails is disconcerting. Diablo Cody’s dialogue is much better, more restrained, than in her last movie Juno. On the other hand, many of the other characters are boring – except a few like a hilarious motel clerk, and the movie is so saturated with product placement that it begins to grate. And like Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air, it seems to rehash the stereotype that urban life is flashy but hollow, while smalltown life is dull but real. Still, Young Adult is a good funny-depressing movie, worth seeing.

Always: Sunset on Third Street: 2

Dir: Takashi Yamazaki

In a little corner of Tokyo right near the newly built Tokyo Tower, two families are trying to make their way after WWII. The Suzuki’s run an auto repair shop, with the help of Mutsuko, a young female mechanic from a small town up north. They are forced to take in a spoiled rich girl from a relative who’s fallen on hard times. And across the street is a struggling writer, Chagawa, poor but educated, who takes care of the runaway boy Jun’nosuke as if he’s his own son. He also hopes to gain back his beautiful girlfriend – who’s now working as a stripper — and form a family of three. She’s afraid she’s not sophisticated enough for him, he’s afraid he’s too wimpy for her. But the illegitimate boy’s father, an extremely wealthy company president, wants to take the kid back. Chagawa has to do something dramatic if he’s to hold onto his fragile family. So he vows to write a great short story and win the prestigious Akutagawa prize. With the help of all his neighbours, he might have a chance.

This is a sequel to the one that the Japan Foundation showed last year to give a taste of Japan, and continues the characters’ stories. Based on the popular Manga series by Ryohei Saigan it has the many long, varied and twisting plotlines you need in that genre, with recurring characters, betrayals, secrets, tragedy, romance forgiveness, coincidences and surprises. Though extremely sentimental, nostalgic and cliched, occasionally even unbearabley maudlin, it’s also fun and satisfying to watch. Either you like it or you don’t, but I’m a sucker for plot-driven period dramas like this one.

Margin Call is now playing, Young Adult opens today, and Always 2 played at the Japan Foundation film festival last week – you can borrow many movies and comics like this one from jftor.org/library for information.

Also playing right now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox is a retrospective of Roman Polanski’s movies, including Knife in the Water, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and his latest movie Carnage, a good social comedy based on a stageplay about two adult couples – strangers – fighting like kids over something one couple’s son did to the other couple’s kid.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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