Wednesday, October 1, 2014

not such great movies

The Railway Man
Colin Firth in the true story of a veteran of the Bridge Over the River Kwai who cures his PTSD by going back to Thailand and confronting the Japanese officer who'd yelled at him while he'd been tortured. In true stereotyped Japanese style, the man grovels apologetically, and all ends happily.
There were several problems with this movie as a piece of storytelling. Eric (Firth's character) is introduced as a crusty but charming old bachelor who meets this woman on the train (Nicole Kidman) and enriches her vacation by spouting historical trivia. First problem: His subsequent tracking of her down is only not stalking because she likes him, though she's so reserved and British I don't see how he can be sure of it. Second problem: His PTSD only appears on screen the morning after their wedding, and quickly escalates, giving the evidently false impression that the marriage set it off. Third problem: Though she says she's a nurse, her efforts to help him consist of looking pained a lot. Fourth problem: Eric and his old army buddy (Stellan SkarsgÄrd, evidently mandatory casting for characters such as his) refuse to talk about their POW torture because they say it was hideous beyond imagination: in flashback scenes it proves to consist of the likes of waterboarding and being locked in tiny bamboo cages; this is indeed horrible, but today not beyond imagination. It's no longer cogent to make a movie on such topics in pre-Iraq terms. Fifth problem: There's much less of that than there is of the officer yelling at him that he's lying, which again is horrible but doesn't really measure up on the torture scale to the advertising. Sixth problem: The reconciliation plot just doesn't grow or flow organically.
Further problems with the movie require exterior context. Seventh problem: Though the filmmakers in the commentary tell us that Thailand was hot, humid, rainy, and full of bugs, none of this comes across in the movie. It looks balmy, even during the war. Eighth problem: In real life, Eric wasn't a bachelor. He was already married and left his wife for this woman. That knowledge really puts a damper on the meet-cute opening.

Palo Alto
I only rented this movie because it's set in the town I know well, as I live near it and used to work there. I already knew it was actually filmed in SoCal. Some of the settings could pass for Palo Alto and some could not. (Too many palm trees.) However, as after 20 minutes or so the plot consisted of nothing but slacker teenagers getting wasted, I turned it off.

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