Movies: 'A Separation,' 'The Secret World of Arrietty' & 'Act of Valor'
Updated 4:08 pm, Friday, March 9, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies at area theaters:
Acclaimed Oscar's Best Foreign Film of 2011, writer/director Asghar Farhadi's meditation on marital conflict is set in contemporary Iran, where two couples are dragged before a judge to defend themselves and their legal, moral and religious beliefs in a family court.
As the drama begins, after a year-and-a-half of bureaucratic aggravation, Simin (Leila Hatami) has finally received permission for her family to emigrate from urban Tehran and is trying to convince her secular, banker husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) and adolescent daughter Termeh (played by the director's daughter, Sarina Farhadi) to opt for a better life. But middle-class, moderate Nader feels he must stay to care for his frail father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who is afflicted with Alzheimer's. So when frustrated Simin, who is a doctor, moves back to her parents' home, Nader hires poor, pious Razieh (Sareh Bayet) to take care of his father during the day, unbeknownst to her debt-ridden, unemployed husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseni). When pregnant Razieh is subsequently injured in a tragic accident, the foursome winds up before an Iranian judge and, eventually, it's up to confused yet intuitive, 11-year-old Termeh to decide what her future will be.
Filled with ethical and cultural issues about conditions for women in Iran, the script is complicated and somewhat confusing unless one is familiar with the Islamic theocracy that has dominated Iran's 70 million people since the 1979 revolution. But the human condition it depicts is universal, and it's not difficult to identify with the deceits and philosophical dilemma faced by each of the characters.
"As Ingmar Bergman used to say, messages are for the telegraph office," Asghar Farhadi ("About Elly") told interviews. "There's a difference between intention and messages. My intention was to create a story and let you interpret what it means. To me, that is more effective filmmaking than to just give a manifesto or slogans."
In Persian with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "A Separation" is an ambiguous, enigmatic 8, revolving around the termination of a marriage.
"THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY"
Based on Mary Norton's beloved children's book series "The Borrowers," this is about a race of miniscule people who live, undetected, in a secret world that's in harmony with nature.
Tiny, red-haired Arrietty Clock (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) is a curious, courageous 14-year-old who hides with her parents, Homily and Pod (voiced by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), beneath a pile of bricks in the subterranean recesses of a cozy country cottage, unbeknownst to the cranky human housekeeper Hara (voiced by Carol Burnett).
Occasionally, however, it's necessary for members of her family to leave their sanctuary to "borrow" supplies, like a hairpin, a thimble, a sliver of cheese or a single sugar cube, always careful to remain unnoticed. But a secret friendship forms when sickly, lonely 12 year-old Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) discovers Arrietty (pronounced AIR-ee-ett-ee) who is out on a foraging mission. Suspecting that Borrowers, who stand only 4 inches tall, have been on the premises for many years, sensitive Shawn gives them an elaborately small-scaled dollhouse that his grandfather made -- with working electric lights and ovens. But, eventually, the safety of Arrietty's entire family is threatened by Hara's wrath, and they're forced to move out.
Written by Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away") and Keiko Niwa, it's directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi at Japan's Studio Ghibli, which specializes in lush, hand-drawn, color-drenched animation, and adapted into English by screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick ("Spiderwick Chronicles," "Over the Hedge") with Americanized vocals directed by Oscar-winning sound designer/mixer Gary Rydstrom ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day").
Under Miyazaki's meticulous supervision, Yonebayashi's wondrously detailed use of scale is delightful, as he transforms an ordinary pin into a sword, for example, and turns the rustle of leaves into a roar, effectively illustrating the pastoral fragility and vulnerability of the little Borrowers. It's easy to understand why this became the highest grossing film in Japan in 2010, winning its Animation of the Year Award.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Secret World of Arrietty" is a gently enchanting 8, an extraordinary adventure.
"ACT OF VALOR"
The idea for this true-to-life action adventure emanated from Navy brass, who gave former stuntmen-turned-producers/directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, unprecedented access to the world of the SEALS in order to build their enlistment ranks and to show the public how the secretive commando forces work and the sacrifices they make to combat global terrorism.
"We needed a vehicle that would allow us to tell the story of who we are and who we're not," explains 27-year-old Capt. Duncan Smith, who is one of the film's stars, in the publicity notes.
Rather than audition actors, McCoy and Waugh recruited eight, anonymous real-life SEALs whom they felt represented a cross-section of the corps, while screenwriter Kurt Johnstad created an uneven, generic plotline in which the team would rescue a captured/tortured C.I.A. operative, played by actress Roselyn Sanchez, and stop Chechen suicide bombers from obliterating American cities.
"We'd tell the SEALs, `We have a bad guy who's on a 180-foot yacht in the middle of the ocean with two counter-piracy boats protecting him. How can we get him?' They'd bring out the whiteboards and design the entire ops plans," reveals McCoy. "Using sometimes as many as 12 cameras, we would film around that."
Because the SEALS were on active duty during filming, many of the action scenes also served as part of their training regimen and the Navy reserved the right to cut any security compromises. Since the realistic concept was unique, no Hollywood studio was initially interested, forcing McCoy and Waugh to raise the $20 million needed for the budget. With serendipitous timing, however, just as filming concluded last May, the SEAL Team 6 that killed Osama bin Laden became internationally acclaimed heroes and Relativity Media immediately snapped up the rights.
Without structure and character development, the focus rests entirely on violent, chaotic combat sequences, involving up-to-the-minute battlefield technology.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Act of Valor" is a seriously authentic, fragmented 5, but it's never clear whether it's recruitment propaganda or a ponderous, vaguely comprehensible documentary.