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Shine on, but it’s not easy being green

Green Lantern
Director: Martin Campbell
A Separation
Director: Asghar Farhadi

by Tribune Web Editor
Friday, July 1st, 2011
The best comic book superhero movies feature a protagonist wrestling with a flaw. Bruce Banner’s anger management issues turn him into the Hulk, a raging inarticulate monster; he forever seeks a cure. The last of his kind, Superman’s powers and secret identity condemn him to a life of solitude; his reporter alter ego Clark Kent must remain a singleton.

With Hal Jordan, a fighter pilot who is chosen to become a Green Lantern, one of an elite corps of inter-galactic peace keepers with super strength, the ability to fly and create weapons in a flash to defend himself, it is difficult to see what the fuss is about. OK, he misses his ultra-responsible dad, also a fighter pilot, killed in a mechanical accident. The event taught Hal to be reckless – no point following the old man’s example, look what happened to him. When he becomes a Green Lantern in the movie version, his flaw is corrected. It is hardly the set-up for a movie franchise.

In any case, the makers of Green Lantern, director Martin Campbell and a quartet of screenwriters including Greg Berlanti and Michael Goldenberg, had a disadvantage over the makers of the recent Spiderman, Batman and Superman movies. Theirs is not a remake. They have no previous version from which to learn. Moreover, unlike Iron Man, they have not introduced a wild card leading actor, who makes for an unconventional hero. Ryan Reynolds, who plays Hal, is the image of a clean-cut action man. He does not bring any baggage, other than an appearance in a rival superhero franchise, X Men Origins: Wolverine.

Clocking in at 114 minutes, the film feels rushed and half-hearted, especially with scenes involving Hal’s young nephew, who is forgotten about half-way through. Admittedly, origins stories can be plodding. There is something to be said for a laboratory accident kick-starting the action, rather than, as here, Hal discovering an alien on a river bank, being given a ring, then transported to Green Lantern headquarters and boot camp.

Campbell and the writers are so keen to get back to Earth that they curtail what could be the most entertaining part of the film – Hal discovering and learning to use his powers. You only have to recall Peter Parker becoming a wrestler in the 2002 Spiderman movie and Tony Stark getting to grips with his costume in Iron Man to know what we are missing, a play with our expectations. Hal basically takes his transformation in his stride and you think: what’s so interesting about that? The one bright point is that in the course of his induction, we see Mark Strong in red make-up as Sinestro, who we know from his name and devil-like attire will be a wrong ’un.

The key plot device is the imminent threat of Parallax, a dust cloud of hostility with a conventional bad guy face heading towards Earth. It also infects a scientist, Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) Hal has to rescue a pilot colleague, Carol (Blake Lively), defeat Hector and stop Parallax. He does so in a 20- minute finale that is underwhelming. It’s not that the special effects aren’t impressive – you see the green on the screen, all right – but the action is perfunctory. All the dollars spent on this film’s budget can’t save Green Lantern from being frankly ordinary, unlikely to light up multiplexes – or cash registers – for very long.

There are a growing number of films that keep you glued throughout the closing credits. In A Separation, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi runs his closing credits over a scene in which two characters are sitting in a corridor waiting for a decision. The rest of the film has been so involving that we hang on intently.

Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, this is the one that most surprised me. I went in with low expectations. A prize-winning Iranian movie (at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival) running over two hours sets you up for a trial of sorts, as you try to figure out what the symbolism means. I was surprised to have my coffee – my guarantee of staying focussed – confiscated at the door of the screening I attended. I was told I had to buy theirs. (Who said you could not take a coffee into a place of work?

At any rate, I need not have worried. Although set up as a film about emigration – the opening sequence features passports being photocopied – what follows is entirely different and thoroughly gripping.The title tells you that it is about the break-up of a marriage. Simin (Leila Halami) wants to divorce her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) and leave the country with their 11 -year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi); their visas, now obtained, have limited validity.

Simin is fed up of being nursemaid to Nader’s elderly father, who has Alzheimer’s. The girl is fiercely loyal to her father. Given her mother’s motivation, you can understand it. So the family is in stalemate. But when Simin moves out, Nader is forced to hire help. The carer (Sareh Beyali) has her own problems: a long commute, an unemployed husband who is heavily in debt, a young daughter who has to tag along with her. We feel for the carer early on when Nader’s father urinates in his bed. She phones a religious advisor to ask if it is respectful of Islam to change him. The carer has another problem. When this comes to a head, the story moves in an unexpected direction.

To say any more would spoil the various twists and turns, all about who did what to whom and how much did the other person know. Some information is held back. There is a threat of imprisonment. Lives can be destroyed. The fate of Nader’s father recedes in importance.In short, this is a superior melodrama. It contains a critique of the Iranian class system, asking various questions. Is a man who loses his job any less deserving of sympathy than one in employment? Is it acceptable to offer a low wage because that is all you say you can afford? Is a man who understands the origins of words and will not abandon his father more Islamic than someone who is morally troubled by the choices they have to make? Should you make a demand that explicitly tests someone’s faith? The film certainly engages its home audience, but us too.

I wanted to describe this Farsi language film as the stand-out art house movie of the summer. In reality, it ought to be screened alongside mainstream blockbusters since it rewards more than most.
http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2011/07/shine-on-but-it%e2%80%99s-not-easy-being-green/

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