The Morning After: Jan. 6, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Wild Strawberries


Memory isn’t fleeting and the mind has a way of telling man what he is afraid to hear. Wild Strawberries is a meditative journey from Swedish master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Bergman has always explored the human psyche in mesmerizing ways, employing dialogue and visual imagery in beautiful ways.

The story surrounds an aging doctor (Victor Sjostrom) travelling across country to receive an emeritus award for his distinguished 50-year career. Plagued by a frightening nightmare, Isak decides to drive instead of fly, making stops by his childhood home and to visit his aged mother. His daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin) joins him and along the way they pick up a trio of travelers and a fighting middle-aged couple.

Bergman’s fascination with the beautiful memories of childhood showcase his attention to the impact those memories have on our adulthood. Having forgotten them, Isak has become surly, irascible and overly pragmatic. As he fleshes out the past, he softens his attitude towards those around him including daughter-in-law Marianne who was disappointed in his insistence that her husband continue to pay a debt in spite of Isak’s comfortable financial situation and Marianne’s weakening one. There are some stirring images on display, especially in the flashback and dream sequences. Sjostrom is terrific, as is Thulin. Bibi Andersson is also quite good as Sara, the young woman of the trio he gives a lift to and also the woman he was secretly engaged to as a young man.

G.B.F.


There’s been a modest dust-up in recent days over the MPAA’s assignment of an R rating to this film, a teen-targeted comedy that doesn’t have any more questionable content than most PG-13-rated films released in the last few years. All of the furor lies in the vague “sexual references” description. Apart from one scene of fooling around barely naked in a car towards the end of the film, there are quite a few bits of rough language, but it is otherwise quite innocuous.

Many believe that the reason it has earned the rating is that it deals with homosexuality and presents it as an ultimately acceptable thing. The story revolves around a pair of closeted High School students. One, Brent (Paul Iacono), believes that, based on a spread on G.B.F.‘s (Gay Best Friends) in a teen magazine , coming out would propel him into popularity at school. Meanwhile, his best friend Tanner (Michael J. Willett) just wants to keep his sexuality private. When Brent demands they relieve their pent-up urges by posting a profile on a gay dating phone app leads to Tanner unwanted public outing, everything Brent suspected would happen does, but not to him.

The film is lighthearted and might fit perfectly into the Disney Channel’s teen romance motif if it weren’t for all that course language. What anyone could find objectionable in this sweet tale is the reason so many are upset with the MPAA rating. I would have absolutely no issue showing this to a roomful of High School students. It may not be any great shakes as a motion picture, but it’s infectious curiosity and relentless focus on exploding stereotypes and silencing bigotry in High School make it a worthy effort. An effort that would be most important to get into the hands of those who’ve been restricted by the very rating the MPAA has callously applied.

Adventureland


With this and Zombieland on his resume for 2009, Jesse Eisenberg quickly established himself as a cheeky, intellectual teenager whose awkwardness was utterly endearing. As a promising young man, Eisenberg finds events spiraling out of control and forcing him to take on a Summer job at a cheap amusement park called Adventureland.

There he meets a troubled young woman (Kristen Stewart) whose emotional welfare is cascading out of control caught between an unconcerned father, a shrewish step-mother and a rock star-mechanic (Ryan Reynolds) using her as a sexual escape from his frustrated marriage. Eisenberg, inexperienced in love and romance falls in love with her and she with him, but her emotional baggage threatens their relationship and his sexual and emotional desires further damage their potential.

Superbad director Greg Mottola follows up his successful feature debut with a film that shifts from one contrived scene to another. Adventureland has a wonderful soundtrack of 1980’s hits, but apart from the heavy emphasis on sex, it has all the originality of an ’80’s teen romance, but without the rosy complexion John Hughes might have given it. This feels like a movie that tries to hard to explode the myths of the Hughes Era pictures while succumbing to the far-fetched and neatly-reconciled elements that gave those films definition.

This is the kind of movie that tries far too hard to evoke a rough edge on a complicated romantic relationship. Nodding at itself with regularity, the film holds too tightly to established stereotypes and narrative construction to become a more inventive picture. Like the film’s protagonist, sometimes you can try too hard to be cool and end up being just the opposite. There are rewarding elements, Eisenberg being one of them, but Adventureland tries too hard to be exceptional and only does an average job of it.

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