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Recent Movies: Blue Jasmine; The World’s End; The Attack; Recent Books: Half-Blood Blues

September 25, 2013

Recent Movies

Blue Jasmine

In two different time periods, the film deals with what happens before and after a wealthy husband and wife have a major financial fallout after it is learnt that the husband broke many laws in obtiaining his wealth.  In the modern story, the wife, on her own, moves in with her sister in San Francisco in a lifestyle much more modest than the one to which she is accustomed.  The film is written and directed by Woody Allen.

There is much to praise about this film.  Though it does not specifically refer to the 2008 financial crisis, it clearly refers to the same greed and its fallout.

In exposing the truth about “status”, this film takes wonderful jabs against common class prejudices especially the dismissal of people because of the jobs they have regardless of how honest some of those people are.

While this film is topical, it seems at times to go only so deep.  There remains a desire for the film to go deeper.  “Blue Jasmine” also has a major hurdle in that the main character (played by Cate Blanchett) is unstable, unlikeable, and totally resistant to learning life’s lessons.  Luckily, Blanchett plays the role beautifully.  At times, she is mesmerizing particularly in scenes where it shows that her spirit is going as far downhill as her life is.  Her performance is the best thing in this fine film.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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The World’s End

Five Englishmen who were high-school buddies reunite twenty years later to do a pub crawl in the town where they grew up.  Halfway through the film, they are met with a very unusual science-fiction surprise.

This film is very intriguing thanks to the snappy directing by Edgar Wright and the energetic lead performance by Simon Pegg.  Both men are also the film’s screenwriters.  Pegg plays a man-boy who is not a person you’d want in your life but one could easily enjoy spending an evening with him.

The first half was quick-witted with a well-written storyline of what happens when the middle-aged are forced to look at their past while evalauting their true satisfaction with their current lives.  The second half is good but the plot twist might not have been necessary.  I hope some day that these fine filmmakers make a parallel film in showing what might have happened in this story without the sci-fi twist.

Rating:   * * *

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The Attack

An Arabic Israeli surgeon has his life turned upside-down after learning that a loved one has committed a shocking act.

This film is a strong drama while it also takes on a current conflict that continues to be controversial.  It is also praiseworthy for seeming not to take sides by the end.  In the middle section, it seems to create a negative picture on one side of the conflict only to later expose understanding for that particular side.

While the overall effect can be a downer, this is likely appropriate as this conflict seems unending.  There also seems to be a feeling of incompleteness in understanding the motive of a major character who commits a shocking act.  But this film’s greatest praise could be that it shows sympathy for those truly stuck in the middle:  Arabic Israelis who want to integrate into Israeli society while still maintaining a link to their own heritage.

Rating:   * * *

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Books

“Half-Blood Blues”  by Esi Edugyan

This book centres around members of a jazz band originating in Berlin during the 1930s some of whom are of bi-racial (black/white) heritage.  They include two African-Americans from Baltimore, a German whose biological father is Senegalese, and three other Germans one of whom is Jewish.  A bi-racial woman from Montreal with connections in the jazz world also plays a major role in the group’s destiny.

The book moves back and forth between time periods:  Berlin and Paris in 1939-1940; and Berlin and Poland in 1992.  This structure works beautifully in how the story’s mysteries are resolved by the end.

The beginning section takes a bit of time to get closer to the characters and their situations but we get close to them eventually.  Most effective in this section is an unexpected betrayal that is revealed in a documentary in the modern time period.

There are times the middle section lags a bit when the characters are confined and in danger.  Also, as the gender balance heavily favours the male side among the characters, the jock talk gets a bit tiring in this section despite its major contribution to the overall story.

It  is in the final section when the book’s brilliance really shines.  Here, the term “masterpiece writing” would not be an exaggeration.  It not only deals with the dangers of war; there is a superbly written section that describes the blow of being rejected for one’s art and the well-meaning consolations that follow.  This section also has brilliant tension in describing the mass exodus from Paris as it is about to be invaded by Nazis.  Here, the book is reminiscent of another great recent publication, “Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky.

Also among the book’s many virtues is its exposure of a part of the Holocaust rarely discussed:  the fate of people of African heritage living in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.  This is but one virtue among many.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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