Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The movies we watched: Mamma Mia, The Sex in the City Movie, Slumdog Millionaire

Susie had to make about a thousand different phone calls in order to get a new bulb in the projection machine in their theater room; it turns out that this one company, while they were very anxious for Susie to purchase the (expensive) bulb, they weren't all that fussed about coming out to her house to actually install it. So she had to call a different home theater company, who told her that something more needed to be done other than just the bulb, but they were polite and respectful and there, so they fixed things up and were just leaving as Carol, the girls and I arrived. We wanted to hug both guys, because movie watching has become an integral part of the CousinFest experience.

Here's what Susie ordered from Netflix and my ratings of the same out of five stars:

Mamma Mia *

This musical movie starts out in a dicey manner with the 20-year-old soon-to-be-married Sophie reading her mother's diary from two decades back. She greets her two bridesmaids at the dock of some island in Greece where her mother, Donna, has a little hotel, reading bits of Donna's diary out loud to them as they posed adorably on rocks and next to trees. Where is the proverbial sniper on the grassy knoll when you really need him?

As it turns out, nobody knows who Sophie's daddy is because her mother has had what the diary coyly refers to as "dot, dot, dot" which just in case you're brain dead or haven't otherwise clued in by the third time Sophie says it, means "sex" with three different guys in the same month. To the tune of Abba's "Honey, Honey," the three chippies all rhapsodize on how romantic it is that Sophie's mamma has been a great big slut back in the day, and that's where Carol and I both looked at each other, puzzled.

"I thought you were supposed to be embarrassed if your mamma was a ho," said Carol.

So did I. Anyway, we made it through about fifteen more minutes so that we could see Donna (Meryl Streep) and her two friends Rosie and Tanya, all of whom were straight out of central casting: Donna, the bohemian free spirit; Rosie, the tough, smart alecky bestselling author; and Tanya, the serial-divorces, high-maintenance society queen. It was just like The Big Chill without the funeral and St. Elmo's Fire without Judd Nelson's hair and The Breakfast Club without the teenage angst and how in the world was this stinker ever nominated for all those awards?

"Do you hate this movie?" I asked Carol hopefully.

"I do. I really do," she said. So I went downstairs and asked Doug if he could make it stop.

"I knew you wouldn't like it!" he said triumphantly.

Susie wasn't at home when Carol and I started watching Mamma Mia. By the time she got home, we were already watching the "Sex in the City" movie. She was very disgruntled that we disliked Mamma Mia and accused us of not truly appreciating the music of Abba, which is a terrible thing to say to people who went to high school and college in the 70s and 80s. We were chastened, but unrepentant. Mamma Mia went unwatched.

The Sex in the City Movie **

We did watch this one all the way through, but since Carol and I had neither one ever seen the HBO series "Sex in the City," our lack of appreciation for the trials and triumphs of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda -- and good grief, doesn't anyone have friends who are just named "Lisa" anymore? -- made Susie a little edgy. Carol and I kept talking irreverently during scenes that Susie felt were important, so she kept stopping the DVD and scolding us, filling us in on the backstory so that we would watch with a more respectful attitude.

My first problem with this movie is that I hated Miranda, who couldn't even interact with her own child long enough to sit through a spaghetti dinner at a restaurant without the nanny there to run interference. My second problem is that I hated Samantha, after whom I would never sit on the same toilet seat unless I had a sandblaster and a vat of bleach because from the way she described her own sexual experiences, there is no telling what is crawling around up in there, if you know what I mean. My third problem is that I found Charlotte a bit smug in her own version of happily-ever-after and only the fact that she poughkeepsie'd in her pants after accidentally opening her mouth and allowing shower water to go in while in Mexico made her more tolerable.

I liked Carrie, though. She was okay. For all her feminist stylings, I found it very strange that she was willing to allow her boyfriend of TEN YEARS to buy a penthouse apartment for them to share, until one of her friends pointed out what a vulnerable position she was putting herself in. She went ahead and did it, though, and it bit her in the rear end, just like you might imagine.

Here are two points, though:

1) I live in Indiana and I just can't make myself care all that much about Prada or Manolo Blahniks (Susie's friend Liz calls them "Vanilla Colonics," which I thought was the wittiest thing I'd ever heard) and although I can appreciate the style and beauty of a Vivienne Westwood wedding gown, I can't imagine myself worshipping it.

2) I am a Church Lady AND a Girl Power type of person and I couldn't believe that Carrie was willing to be dated for TEN YEARS and have an apartment bought for her without any type of meaningful committment other than a custom closet. Where I live, we still say things like "Why buy the cow when the milk is free?" and darned if that very concept wasn't played out, right there in this movie! I felt extremely vindicated.

After ten years of dating Mr. Big, Carrie suddenly begins to realize that by moving into (his) penthouse (not theirs) and giving up her own apartment, she's putting herself in a potentially devastating situation. So she cajoles Mr. Big into a half-hearted marriage proposal that could have put frost on a January radiator. When he jilted her on their wedding day, forcing her to leave their wedding venue in her gown, I don't think Carol and I were surprised at all.

When they finally were able to talk via cell phone, Mr. Big asked Carrie why she hadn't been answering her pages -- I don't know where he thought she was supposed to be carrying her phone -- and then meweled like a sniveling little nancy-boy, "Will we still be us if we get married?"

WHERE is that sniper on the grassy knoll??!!

Carrie tried to tell him that they were, indeed, going to still be "us," trying to reassure her gallant groom that they weren't going to turn into Pamela Anderson or Britney Spears or one of that ilk and whoever they're with right now and have drunken fights that ended up with new tattoos all around and naughty videos posted on the internet. To no avail! Mr. Big wasn't big enough and it all just goes to prove that if he was that in to her, he would have asked her to marry him about nine years ago.

The Carrie went ahead on her honeymoon to Mexico, but her friends came along and took care of her and it was very sad, but very sweet.

During all this, there was a lot of shushing by Susie and a lot of peremptory commands to "pay attention because something important is getting ready to happen" and Carol and I teased Susie mercilessly.

There were a lot of subplots that involved some characters maybe getting a divorce and others splitting up because the female partner wanted to be free to have all the unrestrained sex she desired -- I would rather poughkeepsie in my pants myself before using the toilet after that woman -- and a new baby. Some of it was nice and some of it was just downright awful, including a number of extremely graphic sex scenes that caused Carol and I to shriek and hold sofa pillows in front of our eyes.

"You mean the title of the movie didn't clue you in that there were going to be sex scenes?" said Susie incredulously.

At the end, I was horrified -- horrified! -- that Carrie went on to marry Mr. Big after experiencing ten years of dating, one half-hearted marriage proposal, and the cruelest and most selfish rejection possible, all because he got down on one knee and proposed to her in her custom closet, when she went to the penthouse to pick up a pair of Vanilla Colonics she'd left there. There wasn't even that much apologizing or 'splaining or couples therapy, or anything.

I just didn't get it at all. From the literary standpoint, it was kind of like an ancient Greek drama where the plot has become so hopelessly tangled that they playwright uses the device of the deus ex machina to descend from the heavens and say, "I am a god! And I declare that everything is now better! Because I have said so in a god-like manner!" From the modern screenwriters' standpoint, I suppose it was more of a thing about "This movie is already about six hours long, what with all the gratuitous sex scenes and the shots of Carrie wearing quirky yet haute couture-y outfits, so we'd better wrap this thing up. I know! Let's have them get married!"

Although this movie had its nice parts, the bad outweighed the good for me, especially that acquienscent Girl-of-the-Eighteenth-Century ending. I suppose it would have helped a lot if I'd seen even one episode of the series so that I could have connected with the characters more, but I didn't have the opportunity to know their history. I appreciated the depth of their friendship and how they were willing to care for one another, though, and since that's how I feel about Carol and Susie, that was one thing I connected with completely.

Slumdog Millionaire *****

This movie was extremely engrossing -- I really can't say "entertaining," because that word implies a light, frothy sort of attention that one might pay to a movie like, oh, just to pull a title out of the air, Mamma Mia. Anyway, engrossing. As in "unable to look away from the screen, even when I wanted to." It was a painful movie to watch, but it really raised awareness of how hard life is in some places of the world. I mean, I already knew something of the plight of the poor in India due to reading about Mother Teresa's great good works, but oh, my goodness. Just seeing the searing poverty on film makes me feel sad for ever complaining about eating tacos and spaghetti over and over again last winter.

Just in case we didn't understand things, Susie explained the plot in detail to us as things went along. Here's what I took from the plot:

The story is about three little musketeers, orphaned brothers Salim and Jamal and their friend, the girl Latika. Salim and Jamal are protective of one another and they take on the care and comradeship of Latika after the anti-Muslim attacks in 1993. The three children survive on the meanest streets possible through the craftiness of Salim -- it's obvious early on that his shrewdness is going to land him in a sticky mess somewhere along the way, and sure enough, it does. But not for about fifteen more years.

Jamal loves Latika from the very beginning. They're maybe about seven or eight when the movie begins, but his devotion is unswerving. The two children are separated by events that transpire, find one another and lose one another again in a series of circumstances that is very painful. Sometimes, you just feel like your heart is going to be torn in pity.

But then Jamal winds up on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and he is brilliant at answering questions. He answers questions based on the experiences he's had in his life, most of which have been things that would have killed a lesser man like Mr. Big. Naturally, the producers of the show can't figure out how this uneducated "slumdog" knows the answers to all these difficult questions, so they resort to punishment to get Jamal to confess his cheatin' ways.

Since everybody in the world has apparently seen this movie except for me and Carol, I'll say that things turned out well both in terms of the money and in Jamal and Latika's loving, loyal friendship, which had turned into something more. It was a blissful ending, and when the whole cast assembled in the train station after the credits to sing and do the Bollywood thing to the song "Jai Ho" (which means "Victory to Thee"), your heart just melts in happiness.

It was a hard movie to watch, but the action was non-stop, the story was excellent, and the ending was the stuff all good romances are made of. No half-hearted proposals and wishy-washy last minute cold feet from Jamal -- he was a pure-hearted, uncompromising beloved who could move any woman's soul, maybe even witchy Miranda's.

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