The first week of Fall term went well, and Nicky and I enjoyed a restful weekend by taking in a pair of much-talked-about movies -- the first in the theater, the second at home (thanks to Netflix). Both were excellent, in their own wildly disparate ways.
Tropic Thunder has been attacked for disrespect to the mentally handicapped (Robert Downey Jr.'s method-acting character's advice to his colleague Ben Stiller not to "go full retard" when playing such a person), stereotyping of blacks (Downey's attempts to match his new skin tone with phraseology and mannerisms that he thinks blacks "should" have), and even anti-Semitism (Tom Cruise's obscenity-spouting money man), but anyone with a brain cell knows what the true target of this foul-mouthed satire is: modern-day Hollywood. The movie overstays its welcome by 20 or 30 minutes, but most of it rings true, albeit in comically exaggerated fashion. The flick appears to have split the viewing audience into those who regard it as a classic and those who regard it as much ado about nothing. Personally, I think Thunder could have throttled down the action sequences -- how ironic that a spoof of big-budget war movies like Apocalypse Now (1979) ended up falling into the same trap and degenerating into a cacophony of noise and violence -- and still made its points in perfectly acceptable fashion. Still, if David Zucker's upcoming An American Carol, the Michael Moore satire, is as successful as Thunder in skewering its particular sacred cow, then it will be doing quite well indeed.
The 2007 sleeper hit Juno got a lot of praise for its surprisingly (given the film's offbeat sense of humor and equally askew title character) pro-family theme, but I thought the movie did certain other things even better. I could certainly relate to Juno as a character -- not exactly troubled (pre-pregnancy, anyway), but someone who doesn't really seem to fit into any of the myriad cliques that shape life at a typical high school. I didn't act so consciously against the grain while growing up -- certainly not to the extent of inventing a sui generis way of speaking -- but there were Junoesque moments, to be sure. The scene in which Juno eats outside the cafeteria while sitting in a trophy display case resonated with me based on direct personal experience.
John Podhoretz's excellent review of Juno for THE WEEKLY STANDARD pointed out another overlooked theme of the movie: Adults who act like adolescents are asking for trouble. The would-be adoptive dad of Juno's child tries hard to connect with the teenager but ultimately doesn't have the staying power to go through with the adoption or try to patch up a tetchy marriage with a demanding spouse. Sooner or later, you have to grow up and put childish things, if not aside, then, at least, in a less accessible corner of the room.
Coming this week: reviews of the June-dated issues of Gemstone Comics.