Saturday, July 8, 2023

Divorce, Family and Memory in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"

(A few spoilers within.)

     I recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, and as a divorced man I had an interesting, personal reaction to the plight of Peter Quill.  

     The question of what constitutes a family is at the heart of the first two "volumes" in the Guardians of the Galaxy series.  Peter Quill, Starlord, is abducted from his dying mother to go live with his demi-god father, but he eventually realizes the ravager Nandu, who raised him, was a true father to him.  Drax's family was murdered in one of Thanos' wars.  Nebula and Gamora are both daughters (in Gamora's case, "adopted") of the brutal Thanos.  Rocket seems to have no family background at all.  (His story is at the heart of Volume 3.  I won't discuss it here, but let's just say he's an orphan.)  He and Groot make up a family of two, solidified by Rocket's ability, alone, to understand Groot's language.  Mantis joins the group after we discover she's something of a half-sister to Peter, also orphaned after the death of their demi-god dad.   

     Through mutual struggle, these characters all find a family together.  Gamora and Nebula overcome their sibling hatred; Peter finds a sister; and Peter and Gamora begin a relationship - they are something of the "mom and dad" of the group.  The end of the second film finds them all happily belonging to a supportive, loving ad-hoc family.

     But then Thanos messes it all up.  In the Avengers films, he kills Gamora in order to get the Soul Stone.  When she returns from an alternate timeline, as part of the Time Heist, she's an "earlier version" of herself, one who hasn't experienced all the struggles with Peter and the rest of the Guardians.  When she meets Peter, she doesn't "remember" him.  His attempts to reconcile with her make up an important part of the plot, and theme, of Volume 3.

     I deeply commiserated with Peter's relationship with Gamora.  Someone he dearly loved and with whom shared many big and small experiences doesn't return his affection.  Her inability to remember is similar to a divorced spouse simply not wanting to share those memories.  And her lack of desire to "fix" their relationship is also common.  She isn't the person he thought he knew.  

     This leaves Peter a broken man.  He seems "incomplete."  He's not only broken hearted.  He's also lost someone he "went through things" with.  Someone he saved the universe with!  He can share some stories and memories with his best friends, but it's different when you lose your loving partner.  My ex and I "went through" a lot of things - both as a couple, and as parents.  We spent ten years as a couple working, taking trips, being best friends.  Then we built a family together.  Bought a house, created a home.  We were partners in life, I thought.  (That's another story.)  We were together twenty years.  That's a lot of living!

     I often share memories with my kids about places and events from the "nuclear family" period of our lives.  I'll remind them of parties thrown and trips taken.  I'll occasionally find myself sharing anecdotes involving their mother.  They don't remember much.  And I think many of these memories just remind me of what I lost.  We share stories as part of belonging.  When the person you share those memories with no longer can, or wishes to, share them anymore, it's a big loss.  I also have to think, now, that her memories are different than mine.  Our experiences were different.

     I also think sometimes about not just what my ex and I shared together with our immediate family, but also time spent with our parents, and grandparents, or times spent with new babies, or old friends.  I knew my ex's grandfather, and she mine.  She knew my dad.  They are gone now, and I miss being able to share my memories of them with her.  And with friends, we can't talk about the vacations taken together, or kid's birthday parties, the same way.  I don't even speak with all of our mutual friends much, and I certainly don't speak much with her family.  

     I think this hurts me especially because of how much I valued our family, and how much I try to keep the past alive with traditions and story telling.  I've had to repress much of my desire to remember or retell our past.  I'm not trying to forget!  But I don't want to spend as much time remembering.

     A few months after my ex moved out, after we ended counselling and we were starting to mediate our separation, I took my three boys camping.  We went with a few other close families as we had done in the past.  People with whom we shared (and continue to share) a history. I had some big emotional ups and downs that trip.  One evening I called (or texted, I don't remember) my ex and asked her, didn't she miss these trips?  Didn't she miss the memories?  She replied that it was "time for new memories."  

     And she was right, sort of.  I understood then that she no longer would value what we had shared together the way I did.  It didn't mean I had to throw it all away, but I did have to start looking forward.  And I did.  I'm still in the house that we raised the boys in.  I've kept it much the way we had it, but have started redecorating in small ways, making it more my own.  The boys like living here, still.  I think it will be their home as long as we stay here.  But I also know that the time will come when I will have to make a new home for them.  Maybe alone, maybe with someone else.  And I'm ready for it. 

     Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3, continues to examine "what constitutes a family."  At the end of the film the group looks much different, as they all try and find where they might ultimately belong.  The family "breaks up" in a way, but then is rebuilt with some new members.  Just like life - people come and go.  Kids grow up and move out.  People pass away.  And Peter must accept that the Gamora he knew is also gone. It's a sad ending, but also hopeful, especially as Peter tries to reconnect with his own, now fairly distant, past.  I can relate.


Monday, June 12, 2023

"Lifeboat" and "Sahara"

     I was recently on a camping trip with my kids, and I took my two younger sons, the 11 year old twins, on a hike.  I knew it would be between three and four miles, and I had a good sized bottle of water for us to share, but about half way through I realized the entire endeavor was more strenuous than I anticipated.  I was worried we would run out of water and the boys would become unbearably cranky.  Our lives weren't at risk, but our enjoyment of the hike - through prairie, around a lake, and up a steep, narrow hill to a secluded cave - was in jeopardy.
     So I told the boys we would ration water.  Only take sips at certain mile markers.  It worked.  I managed to keep us hydrated, and happy, for the entirety of the walk.  To help distract them, and also put our "plight" into context.  I told the boys two stories from films I remembered about other thirsty travelers.  "Lifeboat," directed by Alfred Hitchcock, from 1944; and "Sahara," from 1943, starring Humphrey Bogart.  
     "Lifeboat," I explained, was about a group of survivors of a merchant marine ship sunk by a German U-boat (submarine) during World War Two.  The entire film take place on the small lifeboat.  Initially there is only one passenger, a beautiful socialite reporter, but she is soon joined by a laborer from the engine room; a radio operator; a nurse; an African-American steward (waiter and general servant); a wealthy industrialist; a woman holding desperately to her dead baby; and a German survivor of the U-boat, which gets sunk in the battle.  

     My kids were fascinated by the different conflicts that the small location creates.  Who should be in charge?  Is the German - who may or may not have been the captain of the U-boat - helping them, or sabotaging them?  He hides a compass, he sneaks energy pills and water, and he even convinces one of the survivors to jump overboard!  How well do the rich and working class people get along?  When things get tough, and they run out of water, what will they do to survive?  It's a wonderful, tense film, very stressful.  Everything is at stake for the characters.  And I think the ultimate message - that we all need to stand up and fight together (rich and poor, black and white), against fascism (in the form of the German sailor) to survive - is still compelling today.

     "Sahara" has a similar message.  An American tank crew, after surviving a vicious battle, heads deep into the desert as part of a retreat.  The three man crew, led by Humphrey Bogart, is "flying blind."  They only have a rough idea of where to go, and they have limited water, oil, and fuel.  They pick up a rag-tag group of British soldiers, an African Sudanese with a captured Italian soldier, and eventually a German pilot they shoot down after he strafes their tank. (After much debate they decide they can't leave prisoners, either benign like the Italian or possibly dangerous like the Nazi pilot - to die in the desert!)  The Sudanese soldier leads them to an old fort they hope has a well, but that only has a trickle of water flowing, but it's enough to sate their thirsts.  

     As they are about to leave, they capture some German scouts who reveal there are 500 German soldiers nearby, dying of thirst.  The small allied group decides to lure them to the fort with the promise of water, then trap them while they send one of their own men - one of the Americans, in the captured German scout car - for help.  After all, what's their 10 or so lives compared to the 500 German soldiers they might kill or capture?  And isn't the goal to win the war?

     When we got back from the trip, we watched both of the films.  My boys liked "Lifeboat."  They were appalled by the nastiness of the German U-boat captain, and how he manipulates the survivors.  They liked the interesting cinematography - and the way the setting affected and reflected the action (storms rising when things got tense!).  But they liked "Sahara" more.  They enjoyed the way the group of allies made it seem like they had much more water than they did when they were being attacked by the Germans.  And sadly they felt it when, one by one, the small group of men defending the fort were killed by the advancing enemy.  They also liked the race against time element - will the man sent to get help return in time across the harsh desert?  Or will he also die of thirst?

    There are many, many older films that might be appealing to kids.  I think existential crises are good - so are films that express a clear moral stand against evil.  And relating the films to their own experiences helps!

Monday, February 27, 2023

A few films . . .

Catching up on James Bond:

Casino Royale **

Quantum of Solace *

I like these films!  Daniel Craig was a good Bond.  I think I only saw the first film, and I'm going to watch the rest of his run.  I like the way they seem more grounded in reality.  The conspiracists all seem like real people, the corruption and evil reflective of what's really happening in the world.
And I really like the way the introduce the Vesper cocktail.. It's so good!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness
*** - Must See.

A grotesque black comedy about wealth, privilege, influencers, body image, and survival.  

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Menu, Amsterdam, Man vs. Bee, and others

The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) **
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  Loretta Young, Guy Kibbee, Mickey Rooney, John Wayne

I love a good boxing movie.  This one was new to me.  Fairbanks plays a spoiled light-heavyweight boxer named Jimmy Dolan who wins the championship, then drunkenly, accidentally kills a reporter who learns that his goody-two shoes image is a fake.  Dolan's friend and girl double cross him, steal his money and a watch, dump him in the country, then flee - but they die in a fiery car crash after a police chase.  The authorities believe Dolan is the burned corpse (the watch, the girlfriend).  Dolan goes to his lawyer to get some money in the bank, but the lawyer also double crosses him, steals his money, and forces Dolan into hiding - if he comes forward the cops would arrest him for manslaughter.  One of those cops is a washed up detective played by veteran character actor Guy Kibbee with his own reasons to find Dolan.
Dolan ends up across the country at a small home for disabled kids, doing odd jobs.  Loretta Young is the teacher, and the great character actress Aline MacMahon is the housekeeper.  One of the kids is played by Mickey Rooney in an early role.  One of the kids accidentally tales a picture of Dolan that gets in a local paper - showing his boxing stance, but not his face.  But Kibbee the cop sees it and places Dolan, and heads out to look for him.
The home, of course, is suddenly in need of $2,000 or it will face foreclosure.  Conveniently, there's a boxing match coming up, $500 per round against a mountain of boxer.  Dolan signs up, planning to fight as a righty to disguise himself (he's a natural southpaw - he's also grown a mustache - not much of a disguise but he looks more like Fairbanks!!).  Also boxing in the exhibition is a young John Wayne in a great little performance.
The fight is great!  Wayne and a few other tomato cans get beat up by the big boxer - then Dolan gets in the ring, with Kibbee the cop and the housekeeper in the crowd, Young and the kids listening on the radio.  He gets beat up good, as a righty, lasting three rounds.  But he needs a fourth round to get to $2000 and save the home.  He goes down hard on the canvas - and Kibbee rushes up to him, calls him Jimmy, and tells him to let him have it with the left!! 
So Dolan gets up and gives it to he big boxer, good - the classic "I'm really a southpaw" bit.  It was fun!  I thought he might knock the big guy out, but he's too big.  Dolan gets knocked out the next round.  Kibbee arrests him, let's him tell a story to Young (now his girl!) about going east for boxing matches, and I thought for sure he would let him go.  But he doesn't, yet.  He takes him to the train.   It's there they have a long talk, and it's clear that Kibbee also has a past that went unfulfilled.  It's here he lets Dolan go. 
This is from 1933, before the Hays Code - and Dolan is very guilty of manslaughter.  A few years later, the story would have to end differently.  So it's refreshing to see the morally right ending here. 
Great performances, especially from supporting characters.  Good surprising ending.  And a sweet love story.  Great film.    

Amsterdam (2022) ***

A wonderful David O. Russell film about friendship, art, love, brutality, and fascism.  The central question resonated with me.  Why are we with someone?  Do we choose them, or do we need them?  If we need them, why - is it for us, or for them, and for the right reasons?  If we choose them it's got to be for the right reasons, the healthy meaningful reasons.  Whether for friendship or love.  And these relationships get us through our toughest moments, and also provide for the most joy.  An excellent film.  
It's also a little grotesque, and very timely.  Good people have to stand up to bullies.  

The Menu (2022) **

An allegorical film about different types of privilege.  Beautiful, darkly funny, violent.  Avant garde.  Yes it's about a group of diners at an exclusive island restaurant; but they have been specifically chosen for this very special meal, and one of the guests isn't supposed to be there.  What happens is very surprising, and asks the question - are you a giver, or a taker??

The Quick and the Dead (1995) **

Sam Raimi's revisionist Western holds up.  Sharon Stone competes in a gunslingers' "contest" in a small town run by outlaw Gene Hackman.  Different archetypes are deconstructed - the Kid, the Preacher etc, - as they duel to the death.  Stone herself has a secret and a grudge to settle.  It's a fun film, in the Sam Raimi style, with imaginative editing and lots of dutch angles.  

Man vs. Bee (2022) **

Every fan of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean will love this slapstick, cringey series.  Made up of nine ten-minute episodes, this is effectively a feature.  Atkinson's Trevor Bingely is a first time house-sitter trying to make enough money to take his estranged daughter on a holiday.  But the house he gets assigned to is a "smart home" with automated EVERYTHING, and what appear to be priceless paintings and sculptures and cars, and a peanut sensitive dog.  When a bee gets stuck inside, and Bingely gets obsessed with getting it out of the house, everything goes haywire.  I laughed out loud.  Repeatedly.  Great to watch with kids.

White Noise (2022) **

I love Noah Baumbach.  He captures dysfunction in middle class families like no other filmmaker.  And when he works in the past, he excels.  So this story should be a knockout, but it's an odd exercise.  The first mistake I think some critics are making is that they take this story seriously.  This is not realistic.  Like The Menu these are not real people we are watching.  Their circumstances are not believable.  These characters are in situations that they either shrug off as not important, or they don't give them as much weight than they should.  I think it's lampooning academia that invents itself for itself; invented and exaggerated crises; and domestic bliss and infidelity and how we react to it (especially men).  The great dance scene at the end reminds us that we were just watching a movie.

**** Masterpiece
*** Must See
** Worth Seeing
* Has Redeeming Facet
* Not Worth Seeing

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Two Critiques

More critiques!  If you want full reviews find them elsewhere.  Just some quick thoughts.

Emily the Criminal - **

Wonderful story about today's economics and the choices it forces on young people.  Emily dropped out of art school because of a violent incident in her past.  She can't find fulfilling work that also pays the bills.  When she gets an opportunity to use other skills she has - perhaps related to her shady past - she maybe finds a way to beat the system.  I like the way the young woman at the center of the story refuses to be a victim, and refuses to let the failures of others dictate her future.   A pretty small film made bigger by Aubrey Plaza's performance.

The Banshees of Inisherin - ***

On it's surface it's a story about a friendship gone sour.  But I think it's about how difficult it is to move on from a relationship when one person has changed, or just wants change, and the other hasn't. (Having recently been through that in a divorce I found that especially interesting.) I think the other aspect is the question of finding fulfillment in middle age. We get that story from all three of the leads (besides the two male friends, one of their sisters, Siobhan, is the only one who makes a really positive change!).  
Great soundtrack, beautiful and thematically interesting setting (it takes place in 1923, with the Irish Civil War raging just over the water - a fight between friends and family), personable acting and deft directing.  A must see.  

Four Stars - Masterpiece
Three Stars - Must See
Two Stars - Worth Seeing
One Star - Has Redeeming Facet
No Stars - No Redeeming Facets

Saturday, January 7, 2023

A new exercise . . .

I watch a lot of films.  I lose track of them.  I'm going to start keeping a running list.  Commentary here and there.  But I will give each film a star rating.  

Many of these I've seen before.  Many for the first time. 

Four stars - masterpiece.
Three stars - must see.
Two stars - worth seeing.
One star - has a redeeming facet.
Zero stars - no redeeming value.

Black Adam *  I wanted to like this more - but it labors too long with the "good guys fighting each other until they figure out the real enemy" story.  But this DC superhero fan liked seeing Hawkman, (Red) Tornado, the Atom, and Dr. Fate on the big screen as a re-imagined Justice League.

Strange World *  I was surprised by this disney film.  Give it a shot.  It starts out with a dull "I won't be like my father plot" but quickly turns into a story about environmentalism and how best to take care of our home.

Glass Onion **  A worthy whodunnit successor to the first in the series.  Great plotting, fun movie.

Enola Holmes **

Enola Holmes 2 **  Great feminist messages!  Funny and exciting.  A good series for kids and adults.  

The French Dispatch *** It's weird to say this Wes Anderson film is "under rated."  This was my second viewing, and it blows me away.

Fake Famous * An interesting participatory, performative documentary about how and why people want to be "influencers".  

Notorious (Hitchcock) ***  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman.  I still love this film but as it ages I'm more appalled at the horrific way he treats her through much of the film.

Nope ** Maybe ***, still thinking about it.  Peele's films deny explanation.  They are gloriously beautiful and baffling and violent and scary and funny.

Nancy Drew Detective (1938) *

Nancy Drew Reporter (1939) * Fun old mysteries that hold up pretty well (except for a dated, racist portrayal of a farm hand in the second film.)  Interesting comparing these with the Enola Holmes films.

Bad Day at Black Rock ***  Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan.  A timely film.  What happens when bullies take over.

Pygmalion (1938) ** Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller are hilarious and sweet and sincere in this 1938 version of George Bernard Shaw's play, later made most famous as My Fair Lady.  Wonderful performances.