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Thumbnails November 2009

by Tony Medley

An Education (10/10): Highlighted by a bravura performance by Carey Mulligan, this story of a romance between a 30ish Jewish man-about-town,  Peter Sarsgaard in a delightful rendition, and a 16-year-old gentile schoolgirl, Mulligan (who was 22 when she shot the film), based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, is close to flawless. Lighting up the screen in a supporting role is Olivia Williams, who had to be beautied-down to look like Mulligan’s dowdy instructor whose life, Mulligan feels, has passed her by. Directed with sensitivity by Lone Sherfig from a screenplay by Nick Hornby (who also wrote the novel “About a Boy” that was made into one of 2002’s best films) this is one of the best films of this year.

Capitalism: A Love Story (7/10): Michael Moore isn’t a historian or a documentarian. He’s a propagandist (“The International,” the anthem for international socialism, is his new film’s theme song). But he is entertaining and funny, even though he leaves facts in ashes in his wake. Moore provides no background, basis, explanation, or context for many of his segments, but simplistically blames capitalism for all his knee-jerk conclusions. A running, tear-jerking story about a family losing its house never tells WHY it is losing it. Could they have been irresponsible? This is entertaining, but because of all its folly and manipulation and misinformation it’s a polemic that must be watched with hardy skepticism.

A Serious Man (5/10): Joel & Ethan Coen have been responsible for some entertaining movies, like “Fargo” (1996) and “Burn After Reading” (2008). This time, however, their film (reminiscent of the Book of Job with a different ending), based on their Jewishness and growing up in the Midwest in 1967, misses the mark, and is hardly sympathetic to Judaism. The acting is uniformly good. In addition to a fine performance by leading man Michael Stuhlbarg, especially outstanding are Sari Lennick, who is particularly hateful as his philandering wife, and Sy Melamed, who is particularly unctuous as her lover. But for a world that is predominately goyim this seems too esoteric and downbeat to appeal to a wide audience.

Whip It (4/10): The first hour of this Drew Barrymore-directed production is an incredible bore, despite the presence of the enormously talented Ellen Page. Barrymore has Page in a silly sexually-oriented swimming scene with her boy friend, singer-songwriter Landon Pigg, and, in a later scene, even has her take off her shirt and appear in only a bra. As good an actress as Page is, her sexuality has nothing to do with her body. Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly had stimulating sexuality, but their shapeless bodies were never exposed in any way. When Page appears scantily clad, it is less than titillating. This picks up a little in the last 50 minutes, but not enough to recommend, although Jimmy Fallon does a good job channeling 1950s roller derby announcer Dick Lane.

Couples Retreat (1/10): While the cast and crew must have enjoyed a terrific vacation shooting this on beautiful Bora Bora in the South Pacific, the infantile mishmash they created, burdened by such crass racial stereotyping it would make Stepinfetchit blush, and loaded with annoying characterizations by Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, and Kali Hawk, is no walk in the park to sit through. There is one interesting performance by Peter Serafoniwicz as Sctanley (“Stanley with a C”). If everyone had been as entertaining as Serafoniwicz, this would have been a winner. Unfortunately, Sctanley only appears when the protagonists arrive at the resort and then disappears. All the charm and humor that might have been possible disappear with him.