Archive for May, 2012

Damsels in Distress

May 6, 2012


Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress

These are dark times for movie comedy. In the past year, I’ve only seen three good comedies: the Irish film, The Guard, and two British comedies, West is West and The Trip. (I am speaking, of course, of films that are intentionally funny. Melancholia doesn’t count.) I mostly enjoyed Super, but I didn’t like the ending. And I found parts of The Cabin in the Woods funny, but that is primarily a horror film. Needless to say, I won’t go to any piece of crap with Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell in it. (Although I did like Ferrell in the drama, Everything Must Go.)

Into this wasteland comes Whit Stillman’s latest comedy like a gentle spring rain. Damsels in Distress is set in Seven Oaks University, an academically undemanding institution whose student body largely consists of clueless frat boys and suicidally depressed misfits. Three female students take it upon themselves to help their fellow students and to lift the standards of this dreadful place. They are: the moody and philosophical Violet (Greta Gerwig), the sharp-tongued and hyper-critical Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and the idealistic Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They persuade the university to allow them to establish a Suicide Prevention Center, where they lure in chronically depressed students by offering them free doughnuts and then try to cheer them up by teaching them tap-dancing. They recruit a new student, Lily (Analeigh Tipton), to help them.

Violet advocates that women should go out with men who are inferior to them in order to elevate the latter. According to her, a woman should go out with a man “who doesn’t live up to his potential” or who “doesn’t even have much”. Acting upon this idea, these women go through a series of truly atrocious boyfriends, including two dim-witted frat boys, Frank and Thor (Ryan Metcalf and Billy Magnussen), a would-be intellectual with strange religious beliefs, Xavier (Hugo Becker), and a disingenuous operator, Charlie (Adam Brody).

Although much of the humor is dark, Damsels in Distress nonetheless has a sweet goofiness about it. In that sense, it harkens back to classic 1930’s comedies such as Million Dollar Legs and International House.

Damsels in Distress is a delicious treat.

West is West

May 3, 2012

This past weekend they had the Disorient Film Festival here in Eugene. It is dedicated to films by and about Asian-Americans. The best film I saw at the festival, however, is West is West, which is not about Asian-Americans, but British Pakistanis, but it nonetheless deals with similar themes as the other films at the festival, such as problems of cultural identity and tradition, so its inclusion is appropriate.

West is West is a sequel to a British film titled East is East, which I haven’t seen. You do not, however, need to have seen the earlier film to enjoy this one. The film tells the story of George Khan (Om Puri), a Pakistani immigrant, who, with his wife, Ella (Linda Bassett), runs a fish and chips shop in Salford, outside of Manchester. He believes that his son, Sajid (Aqib Khan), has no respect for his Pakistani heritage, so he decides to bring him along on a trip to Pakistan.

There, George is re-united with his first wife, Basheera (Ila Arun), whom he abandoned thirty years ago to go to England. She has never forgiven him for leaving her, which makes the situation awkward for everyone. What’s more, Sajid rebuffs his father’s attempts to teach him about Pakistani culture. Things get really complicated when Ella suddenly shows up.

West is West is a funny, bittersweet comedy about people caught between two cultures. It gets a bit “feel good” in the second half, but not objectionably so.

At the screening I attended, the film’s producer, Leslee Udwin, spoke. She said she had been having trouble finding an American distributor for the film. One company had almost picked it up, but they backed out at the last minute. They told Udwin that they didn’t think Americans would be willing to see a film about Pakistanis, because they see Pakistan as “Enemy Number One”. I find this sad. I think it also shows a condescending view of American audiences. Surely, the success of A Seperation has shown that Americans are interested in seeing films that show Muslims in a sympathetic light.

The Resistible Rise of Rupert Murdoch

May 1, 2012

A parliamentary commission in Britain has just released a report saying that Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run a media empire.

Gosh, really?

Back in 1984, when Murdoch purchased the Chicago Sun-Times, the paper’s star columnist, Mike Royko, quit, saying that he would never work for Murdoch. “No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper,” he wrote. He also said, “His goal is not quality journalism. His goal is vast power for Rupert Murdoch, political power.”

The British government has finally figured out what Royko knew 28 years ago.

Here is a man with an obvious political agenda and with a reputation for shoddy journalistic standards, who was nonetheless allowed to buy up one major media outlet after another in the English-speaking world. In the US, he has created the Fox News network, which spews far right propaganda to millions of Americans.

The world would be a happier place if more people had listened to Royko.