it's a veritable zoo around here today. we have a barnyard full of revolutionaries, camels galore and one immense wild bore. hey-o!
day two begins with john stephenson's animal farm (1999).
caroline betrays her abiding love of television, giving me my second tv movie in four selections. at this rate, come sunday we'll be talking about lucy & desi: before the laughter (1991).
pray it doesn't come to that.
when i looked at the case for animal farm and saw the hallmark logo, i suspected i might be in for some difficulty. i was right. i won't go to the trouble of rehashing the plot here. you read the book in sixth grade. the problems with doing a hallmark adaptation of this are myriad. the tone they are attempting to strike is all wrong for the material. this is a bleak story, full of betrayal and violence, yet the filmmakers can't resist the compulsion to make with the cutesy once in a while. hey, we've got talking animals! what else are we supposed to do with them? the inherent problem in making this palatable for "family" viewing is that it sells everyone short. it underestimates the kids who might be watching it, assuming they aren't able to deal with ideas like corruption and the dangers of indifference without dollops of ill-conceived whimsy which actually only serve to undercut the power of the message. it certainly doesn't serve the source novella well. the dystopian nightmare of stalinist russia with its accompanying horrors is seldom anywhere to be found. by far, though, the most egregious of all these sins is the tacked-on happy ending. simply shameful. it contradicts everything orwell was trying to say. his warning against tyranny and the ability of power to corrupt is somehow transformed into "we don't mind dictatorship as long as it's benevolent" with an undercurrent of endorsement for a particularly american brand of imperialism. completely ridiculous. the animatronics were occasionally impressive and the roster of voice talent was first class but that doesn't excuse what a mess they made of the story. old major wasn't the only thing that got butchered in this ninety minutes. in fact, he got off easy.
next, we go from the barnyard to the desert for byambasuren davaa and luigi falorni's narrative documentary the story of the weeping camel (2003).
this film chronicles an episode in the lives of a group of nomadic mongolian shepherds in which one of their camels gives birth to an albino calf which it then rejects. they try everything they know how, from gentle persistence to rituals and prayers, to instill a maternal connection but all to no avail. they finally call upon a morin khuur player to help them with a ritual of music and chants. the mother camel begins to visibly weep and harmony is restored between her and her calf. the lineage of the film stretches back as far as the very first feature length documentary, robert flaherty's nanook of the north (1922), and it shares that film's focus on indigenous people and its mixture of documentary and narrative elements. the most fascinating thing about the film is simply watching this group of people whose lives move according to such ancient rhythms. they brush up against the twenty-first century, particularly obvious when they send their sons to the aimak center, with all its modern conveniences, to retrieve the musician, but it never threatens to overwhelm the way of life that has been in place for generations. they rely wholly on that way of life for their continued existence and it serves to underscore why the life of one calf is so crucial. the nomadic existence is a difficult one. they don't have the luxury of being able to waste a single resource. it is fitting that they employ ancient methods to ensure the calf's, and therefore their own, survival. while the mystical element of the rituals has no appeal to me, i find it pleasing and somewhat comforting to be reminded that life stubbornly goes on in countless corners of the globe, at its own glacial pace sometimes, regardless of what product apple is unveiling this week.
and then there's this.
eat pray love (2010) is ryan murphy's adaptation of elizabeth gilbert's memoir of the same name in which, in the wake of a divorce, she participates in the titular activities in rome, india and bali, respectively. now, i know i say a lot of things in the course of these for comic effect but i want you to look at me now so you know i am serious.
i have never seen a more privileged, entitled, self-indulgent piece of garbage in my entire life.
never in the history of film have more resources/budget been marshalled in the service of white girl problems (click it, it's worth it). in case, like me, you were unaware of the central lesson of this work, let me outline it for you: the cosmos, as it turns out, is really just a giant mirror. that mirror's main function is to reflect elizabeth gilbert back at elizabeth gilbert. she kicks things off by relating her story to that of refugees who have suffered "genocide, rape, torture, starvation". no, i am not kidding. that happens in the first three minutes. at one pivotal point, she finds a way to turn a fellow pilgrim's heartwrenching story of losing his family to his alcoholism to her advantage, using it as a springboard to forgiving herself for abandoning her husband. at another point, she uses a teen girl in the midst of a terrifying arranged marriage as a conduit for connection with the guru she has co-opted from the manchild ex-boyfriend. she prefaces the bold step of voicing mild disagreement with the guru's teachings by announcing "i'm going to take a risk here". how brave. she then goes on to criticize someone else's writing as self-indulgent, tedious and overlong. fancy that. in addition to all this whining and wondering how on earth she is going to decorate her meditation room, there are also the same lazy and telegraphed gender moves you always see in these things. the women do the same "don't compliment me, i'm fat and exhausted, let's have some girl talk while we look through baby things" business and the men hold babies at arm's length like foreign objects while joking about about feeding them nachos and beer. har har har. and don't forget the dressing room/trying on pants montage, girlfriend! you traveled halfway around the world to do a shopping montage? i guess people are really all the same. it's funny because it's true. makes you think, don't it?
makes me think about gouging my eyes out.
just when i was ready to end it all, javier bardem comes along and saves the day. don't credit the film, though. it's easy to stand out when you're apparently the only real person in a world full of two-dimensional figures. it's even easier when you possess the charisma and skill of javier bardem. i have no idea why he took the job, but i am glad he did. otherwise, i might have had to end it all. this is the worst thing i have had to endure in the queue de grâce experiment so far. i can't imagine it could get much worse. god, i hope not. caroline, i will make certain you regret this.
the adults had their chance, they blew it. tomorrow is all about the kids.
now that's a party. that makes me feel better already. see you tomorrow. and screw you, eat pray love.