★★ / ★★★★
In the opening sequence of “Carnage,” directed by Roman Polanski, we observed a group of kids interacting at a park. As one kid walked away from a group, obviously upset, the leader of the group followed. The former kid turned around suddenly and smacked the latter in the face with a long stick. The one who used the weapon was Zachary and the one who ended up on the ground was Ethan. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly), Ethan’s parents, invited Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz), Zachary’s parents, in their home to discuss, in a calm and friendly way, the issue and what should be done next. Initially, everyone was as serene as a kettle of full of water recently put on a stove to boil. But as the parents spent more time together, they began to turn against one another until the issues they began to discuss were no longer related to the conflict between their children. Based on a play called “Le Dieu du carnage” by Yasmina Reza, for a film packed with four excellent and versatile comedic and dramatic actors, it ended up only slightly comedic and barely dramatic. While nuance in the acting was present, I felt as though there was nothing underneath the surface emotions. Having an experience with working with kids and dealing with equally difficult parents, I can vouch that these people were caricatures. Perhaps they were supposed to be, fine, but it seemed as though Polanski neglected to provide his audience multiple angles of each character so that we would be forced to recognize our parents, or even ourselves, in them. While parents may be as self-centered and sensitive as their children, not for one second did I believe that an adult, after being insulted several times, directly and indirectly, would decide not to flee the situation as quickly as possible. Penelope delivered sententious speeches about how much she loved the history of Africa and how she claimed to understand Africa’s suffering. Nancy felt very ill. Michael kept making jokes in order to palliate the increasing unhappiness. Alan was programmed to pick up his cell phone every time it rang. Didn’t it occur to any of them that it just wasn’t worth it? If I’m talking to someone and it’s obvious that my words are going in one ear and out the other, I’ll feel compelled to no longer speak. I’m not going to waste my time trying to get through to someone who’s too stubborn to consider what I have to say. Deep down, Penelope and Michael felt like Nancy and Alan just didn’t care that their child picked up a weapon and struck another person. The very act had a lot of social, emotional, and psychological implications yet none of them were explored. I argue that if they had been explored, the last shot would have been more powerful. Because the screenplay was adamant in remaining loyal the source material, the movie became asphyxiated by contrivances; I found it difficult to engage with it in a meaningful way. Most plays, like movies, are successful because they make the audiences feel something. Since my emotions remained rather neutral, except for a few snickers here and there, I felt the material did not translate to the big screen. What special quality did this picture have that the play did not? The yelling, screaming, and bickering were aimed, I think, to distract us from its insipidity.
The Winslow Boy (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
Just when the Winslow clan were about to make a toast for Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon) and John’s (Aden Gillett) marriage, Ronnie (Guy Edwards), the youngest member of the family, arrived from The Royal Naval Academy. It turned out Ronnie had been expelled because the academy deemed him to be a thief. Arthur (Nigel Hawthorne), the patriarch, sacrificed the family fortune, his health, and relationship with his wife (Gemma Jones), Catherine, and elder son (Matthew Pidgeon) in pursuit of clearing the Winslow name. This film delighted me because it delivered the unexpected. The source of tension wasn’t in the courtroom scenes but in the way the family members and their friends (Colin Stinton, Sarah Flind) responded the great changes in their lives as the case gained popularity. Arthur was a proud man but he was aware that his quest for justice might not always be the right thing to do. He had to make very difficult decisions as he saw his daughter’s prospect of marriage vanish, embraced the possibility that his son might be telling a lie, and took his eldest son out of school because money was becoming an issue. The film was also about the partnership between a father and his only daughter. Catherine had clear political leanings and, like Jane Austen’s most fun and interesting female characters, she wasn’t afraid to express her opinions in a direct and honest way. There were a number of times when Arthur asked Catherine if he was being foolish and perhaps he ought to stop his crusade. Despite the fact that it was important for Catherine to get married soon, especially since she was almost thirty, she was worthy of admiration because putting her family ahead of herself was never in question. I thought Catherine was one of the most fascinating figures in the film because she was a feminist yet she willingly took the role of the obedient woman. By taking that role, she showed us that being a woman was not a handicap, that women could be as strong, intelligent, and dedicated as the men in charge of the courtroom. The addition of Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam), the Winslow’s cunning defense lawyer, challenged and, despite the difference in their political alignment, attracted her. Pidgeon’s nuanced acting made the film believable and relevant. Based on a play by Terence Rattigan, “The Winslow Boy,” directed by David Mamet,” was beautifully shot. Each movement of the camera had a sense of urgency. Most importantly, it was full of passionate dialogue and it underlined the complexity between justice and doing what is right.
The Boys in the Band (1970)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Michael (Kenneth Nelson) was the host for Harold’s (Leonard Frey) birthday party and all of their friends were invited. Donald (Frederick Combs) arrived early and we learned that despite Michael’s lavish way of living, he was essentially a kid with little regards to money. He got tired of things easily which could be seen by the many times he changed his clothes before and during the party. All of them considered themselves as homosexual but they ranged from the masculine, like Hank (Laurence Luckinbill), to the feminine, personified with great energy by Cliff Gorman as Emory. Some of the invited friends attended with their lovers (Reuben Greene, Keith Prentice). Another was a birthday present (Robert La Tourneaux), a “midnight cowboy” for the birthday boy. “The Boys in the Band,” based on Mart Crowley’s play, is known as the first movie that tackled homosexuality directly. I was mesmerized by the script and the performances. There were many stereotypes but even I can admit that some of them were true. I found qualities of myself and my gay friends in most of the characters; its goal was not to reinforce the stereotype but use it as a template that beneath it all, every type of gay man is different from one another despite society forcing the ridiculous idea that we belong to one category. Instead of putting homosexuals under only a positive light, I admired the film’s audacity to tackle many negative thoughts and emotions. I may not agree with some of the decisions that certain characters made, particularly Michael’s cruel game, but I was able to relate to the isolation they felt despite being surrounded by others, the anger and sadness they experienced when love wasn’t reciprocal, and the fear of wanting to belong with anyone, homosexual group of not, for a stamp of approval. The person I found most fascinating, and the one who I believe as the heart of the picture, was Hank. He was married to a woman for years, had kids, and had the painful experience of coming out to them. The addition of Michael’s former roommate in the university, a self-proclaimed heterosexual, named Alan (Peter White) made the party’s dynamic more complex. Was there an attraction between Hank and Alan or were the two just friendly? After all, Alan was very uncomfortable being surrounded by gay men. Despite Hank being gay, Alan took comfort in the fact that Hank acted straight. I thought that was very honest because I’ve met straight guys (and some of them I consider friends) who would make remarks about someone from afar being a “queer” or a “fag” while in front of me yet they fully know where my attractions lie. The heavy subject matter in the second half was balanced by funny and witty tête-à-têtes and one-liners when the party was just beginning. “The Boys in the Band,” directed by William Friedkin, was released over forty years ago but it still has relevance in today’s more accepting time because the LGBT community still faces similar issues today.