Saturday, February 19, 2011


You still have a chance to see "Boy" (8) on Saturday night at 8:15 p.m., and it's worth the effort. It was a crowd pleaser in New Zealand, and it's easy to see why; I can't think of a film that does a better job of depicting life from a kid's perspective--and, at the same time, walking a line of humor and poignancy that is pretty hard to pull off. Set in 1984, the story centers around an 11-year-old Maori boy named Alamein, called Boy, whose thumbnail version of his life offered to his class as school is filled with love of Michael Jackson and tales of the heroic dad he never sees. His mother is dead and he lives with his grandmother, his observant six-year-old brother Rocky (especially wonderful), and an array of younger cousins. When Boy's grandmother leaves town for several days to attend a funeral, he is left in charge of the household--and then his long-lost dad returns. His name, too, is Alamein, but he prefers to be called "Shogun" and, far from living up to Boy's fantasy of him, dad is a petty criminal, an idiot, and in no way father material. That doesn't blunt Boy's admiration of him though; dad's ideals are pitched right at an 11-year-old maturity level, and the film does a great job of depicting how kids see what they want to see and block out the rest. Dad is hilariously played by the film's writer-director, Taika Waititi, who does a masterful job of conveying what a loser dad is and how hurtful he is as a parent, but yet making him likable and fun. The tone throughout is playful while still evoking worry for the kids, and the children playing Boy and Rocky are terrific. To top it off, the evocation of the '80's is spot-on. A joy from start to finish-- and be sure to stick around for the credits, which include a delightful surprise.

I was not so enamored with "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (3), which bafflingly won the Palme D'or at Cannes in 2010, awarded by a jury headed by Tim Burton. Ostensibly about a man whose last illness seems to be inspiring visits from all manner of inhabitants of the spirit world (including the wife who died 19 years ago and the son who seems to have been transformed into a red-eyed monkey god for no apparent reason), it is so frustratingly opaque that I couldn't find anything to grab onto. And my brain simply could not make sense of the disparate forays into what is supposed to be the spirit world--including, most inexplicably, a woman having an orgasm with a catfish. It was downright irritating to have to listen to people afterwards comment admiringly on how hypnotic it all was; the only thing hypnotic about it was that it made me very sleepy. (In Thai.)

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