Thursday, September 9, 2010

Movie Reviews: ‘Easy A’ and ‘Secretariat’

Teen sex flick
proves all talk
… and lots of laughs

Meanwhile, Disney goes to the races

Took in a Maryland Film Festival members’ screening last night of “Easy A” – a sort-of high school sex comedy.

When wife Bonnie alerted me to the emailed invitation and told me the title, I figured the “A” was for “Ass.”

But it could be “Adultery,” or simply a grade – like the one I would give this genuinely funny movie, except I’d have to call it “Easy A-Plus.”

The plot features the consequences of 10th-grader Olive (Emma Stone) Penderghast’s lavatory admission, under badgering duress by her best friend (I think they’re called BFF’s these days), to having had first-time sex with a community college guy. Except the guy didn’t exist, the weekend tryst never happened, and the false confession is overheard by a couple of not-friend catty gals.

Inevitably, the news spreads instantly in the communications-heavy teen world of cell phones, iPhones, email and old-fashioned whispers – and adorable extra-virgin Olive, who has never gotten into any kind of trouble, much less notoriety, in her upscale, small-town California world, gets caught up in a comic firestorm of controversy.

For a cute, smart kid who seems to have reached 10th grade almost unnoticed, the attention proves a little puzzling and pleasurable at first, but it grows uncomfortably large after Olive agrees to a favor for a homosexual friend – pretending, in a locked bedroom at a huge party, to have sex with him so the guys tormenting him will think he’s normal.

The complications deepen, even turn a bit sinister, as Olive begins taking gift-card payoffs from other gay guys so they can claim to have had sex with her, or at least to having reached second base. Meanwhile, the Christian student prayer circle takes on the cause of getting Olive cast out of the school – and she takes to wearing a bold cut-out fabric scarlet ‘A’ to accessorize her intentionally-slutty outfits.

And yes, her English class is pretending to read Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” (They don’t even bother with the ‘Cliff Notes’ version when there’s the Demi Moore flick rendition available.)

Amazingly, there’s not a lick of real sex – but just enough profanity to keep “Easy A” almost real, except for the broadly stereotypical characters, Olive’s too-perfect-to-be-true parents and little black adopted brother, and the fact that all these high school teens look a tad too old for the roles.

But they were so good.

The screening audience was almost entirely old enough to be Olive’s parents or grandparents. And they laughed, a lot.

I suspect teens will, too.

This is going to be a smash hit – and, I predict, it will rank up there with “Ferris Bueller” and “Clueless” as iconic teen cinema. It opens nationwide Sept. 17.

Check out the Web site at:

Horse tale

While I’m on the subject of movies without sex acts, Disney has a good one opening next month: “Secretariat.”

Based on the William Nack book, “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion,” the film focuses on the real-life tale of Colorado housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy, who takes charge of her dying father’s financially troubled Virginia horse farm and the fortunes of its prized colt – a son of Bold Ruler.

“Secretariat” in 1973 became the first winner in a quarter-century of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, and while leaving out a bit of the Chenery/Tweedy story, Disney’s version of the tale is dramatically interesting (Diane Lane being intensely believable as Chenery) and visually enthralling.

I did not notice the uttering of a single profanity, which seems more than odd given the race track conflicts, and the lone bedroom scene features a hospital bed and the dying father. But then again, the story is so focused on Penny and her horse – it works, magically.

Given that I prefer riding elephants, I’m a sucker for a horse story. After all, I grew up reading every “Black Stallion” novel the local library had to offer. “Secretariat” visually made me feel I was up there in the saddle. The races are riveting.

But the best little moment comes quietly, as the great horse matches stride for stride with Sham in the Belmont Stakes, then opens up a widening lead… five lengths, six lengths, seven lengths, the announcer calls to the pounding hoofbeats around the dirt track.

Then silence, a view from ground-level at the turn into the stretch, and you know what’s coming. You wait, fists clenched like a tight grip on leather reins, and then the horse appears above you, running… pounding... flying… one hoof at a time hitting the dirt… then every hoof in the air… and Secretariat wins the race by 31 lengths.

Backing Lane in the cast are John Malkovich as colorful trainer Lucien Laurin; never-heard-of-before-actor Otto Thorwarth as jockey Ron Turcotte; and the eerily familiar Nelsan Ellis as the devoted -- and rather two-dimensionally-depicted African-American groom Eddie Sweat. (Ellis is featured more flamboyantly in the HBO series “True Blood” as the gay cook and occasional drug dealer Lafayette, in scripts that take better advantage of his acting ability.)


D. said...

Secretariat sounds like fun, although I'll probably have brush up on the details before I see it.

Stuff's quiet lately.

Stephen Pohl said...

You might like, Maryland, a 1940 20th Century Fox movie that can now be seen at HULU.

It was never released on video or DVD but is has spectacular Technicolor steeplechase footage shot here in 1940.

Anonymous said...

Ileft midway through the movie,crying.Not because I was brought to emotion by the movie but because I wasted my money seeing it.