The Rare Review

Movies, books, music and TV

Bog Oak: The Story, “The Black Madonna”

A black statue of the Madonna, carved out of bog oak, is set up at the Church of the Sacred Heart. Lou and Raymond Parker, married, are a nice, liberal-minded Catholic couple; and Lou in particular eventually tries to trust “the black Madonna” for a miracle. But she is treating a mere statue as if it were a talisman, which—in this Muriel Spark short story—it seems to be. It isn’t a god, however: Lou and Raymond are inattentive to God.

Lou, desirous of a baby, gets her miracle. The liberal lady has always been open-minded about black folks, and has tried to keep snobbishness at bay, but she gives birth to a black baby (what a talisman!) and doesn’t want it. She freaks out. A black baby from a black Madonna made of oak. It is incongruous, of course, but it happens in an incongruous world where there is said to be a distinction in the Parkers’ circumstance between a morally good thing and a right thing. Not so.

The Base And The Blues, “Biloxi Blues”

In 1988, Mike Nichols released his movie version of Biloxi Blues, the Neil Simon play. Focused on military recruits at a Biloxi, Mississippi base, it is a bouncy comedy about the ugliness of army life and is also somewhat nostalgic about it. Ably acted by Matthew Broderick, Eugene Jerome is Simon’s alter ego, aspiring to write, oft with the blues. But not always. In one day he loses his virginity to a prostitute and falls in love with a high school girl.

This leads me to the complaint that everything in Simon’s story is too pat. And there is crisp dialogue, to be sure, but it could stand to be a bit funnier and even wittier. Nichols directed, but unlike other of the man’s works, the film is basically inartistic. Re two thespians: Corey Parker is wonderful as a recruit called Epstein, and Christopher Walken is virtually hypnotic and droll.

Another Tale Of Peter And M.J.: “Spider-Man 2”

Cover of "Spider-Man - The Motion Picture...

Cover via Amazon

The 2004 Spider-Man 2 is another Sam Raimi success.  Again Tobey Maguire plays the titular superhero: not a very interesting actor here, he is nonetheless passable.  Kirsten Dunst was cast in these flicks before she got good.

The film asks:  What does it take to create in Peter Parker the desire to be a superhero (a desire he is losing)?  The answer is when Mary Jane (Dunst) urgently needs a savior.  Above all—or just about—Spider-Man 2 is a love story.

Raimi’s scenes and footage are pleasantly resonant, if often familiar.  It was smart of him, after showing Spidey merrily swinging amid the tall buildings, to end his movie with a closeup of Mary Jane watching at a window.  A touch of class.

“Apollo 11” Is A Fine Documentary

Needless to say, it was one of the greatest scientific achievements in the history of the world, and the documentary Apollo 11 (2019), by Todd Douglas Miller, features the first manned moon landing through NASA footage never before seen publicly.

The rocket’s descent to the lunar surface is shown strikingly, wondrously; and shots of Armstrong and Aldrin treading the moon are the kind of thing that, in high definition, never gets old. Armstrong calls the moonscape “very pretty.” When controllers for the launch at Cape Canaveral and at Houston are not everywhere on screen, sundry spectators near the cape are everywhere. One of the controllers remarks it will soon be time for NASA to “re-acquire” (through re-entry) the Apollo 11 craft. That such a thing, fired thousands of miles above the earth to land on the moon, can be re-acquired by the country that sent it, is itself jaw-dropping. 1969 was, is, the space age!

French Summer, “A Tale of Summer”

Eric Rohmer‘s A Tale of Summer (1996) presents a young man’s confusion over himself and women—three of them. The most important one, Margot (Amanda Langlet), is a waitress who is never more than a friend except in her heart; although Gaspard, the young gent (Melvil Poupaud), does find her appealing. In his conduct Gaspard is not yet a man and he needs to be.

Summer is punctuated with original songs that I have no interest in, and the first half of it I found a bit too arid even for a Rohmer film. Too, in one scene Langlet, a charming actor, wears a red top without a bra. For a man, it’s distracting. Then the film becomes more engaging, and as perceptive and gentle as other Rohmer productions. And it is visually very nice. Though a ’96 piece, I had never seen it until it showed up on Max.

(In French with English subtitles)

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