We went to this movie with high hopes because, well, what movie wouldn’t be awesome that has John Goodman and Bill Murray in it. I mean really. Unfortunately, Laura and I came away from this one rather disappointed.
The premise of this one can be summed up pretty simply. World War II is winding down; the Germans know they’re losing so they set out to destroy as much of the world’s great art as they can before they go. Only one thing stands in their way: motley bunch of aging artists. Dramatics ensue from there.
On the positive side, the film does a great job of portraying the importance of the period of history we’re talking about. A thousand years of human art and culture really is on the line. Other reviewers complain about the protagonist’s pontifications but this is the whole point of the film. The Nazi’s weren’t just out to destroy the Jews or rule the world. If they were going down they wanted to take as much of the world with them as they could no matter the price. This story is the ultimate example of “play by my rules or I’ll take my ball and go home.” So all those prolonged speeches aren’t in the way of the real action of this war movie, they are in fact its only reason for being.
To the negative, as a connected narrative this movie was just hacked to bits. It could have made a meticulous and moving 6-hour mini-series but cut down to movie size the whole thing is a disconnected mess. There are, at various points, three distinct story lines but the relationships between them are unclear then suddenly they’re all slammed together in a barely sensical manner. Further, the movie suffers from Hollywood over-drama just for the sake of drama. It’s almost as if they tried to make an action flick out of a story that wasn’t one.
In summary, sadly disappointed. Those looking for a movie about a war… won’t really get one. Those looking for a moving portrayal of an important historical event won’t get what they want either. The whole thing is at times sentimental but never really manages that either. It’s almost as if the movie tried to be 10 things at once and never really accomplished any of them with any deftness. Quite a shame, really.
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Flora by Gail Godwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a not totally unfamiliar preamble, I received this book through the courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury, by simply responding to an advert in the Shelf Awareness newsletter. Despite this kind consideration, my candid thoughts appear below.
To summarize, it’s 1944 and Helen, our protagonist, has recently lost her grandmother and so her cousin Flora has come for the summer to watch over her while her father goes off to do secret work for the government. In those two short months much is learned on both sides as two very different people figure out how to get along.
Flora isn’t a narrative so much as it is a character sketch. Events in the book creep past but until the end there’s not really any pivotal moment or any plot to speak of. The author simply paints a picture of these two personalities trapped in a fishbowl, isolated from the rest of their small-town universe. Flora, who comes from a somewhat disregarded and backward side of the family, is looked down upon by the much younger Helen. Yet Helen fails to realize just how naive and inexperienced she is despite her judgmental attitude toward her cousin.
Readers looking for a dramatic storyline are sure to be disappointed, but I don’t really think that’s the point of Flora at all. Godwin portrays her characters from the viewpoint of her naive narrator in a uniquely realistic way. Reading closely one can almost remember making some of the same misjudgments about people as our young Helen. Our author writes with such clarity that one thinks she must be simply copying from her own diary from her youth. While Helen is so clearly fleshed out within, Flora remains mysteriously simple and one cannot help but wonder what complexities lie beneath the facade.
As I said though, Flora is no narrative wonder. It can take a while to connect with and readers must accept it for what it is. Flora does, however, provide an insightful look at the pre-teen psyche of the 40s and a bit of history with its mentions of polio and listening to evening mysteries on the wireless. Additionally, the story is narrated simultaneously by young Helen and old Helen as she looks back on these events with broader perspective. It can sometimes be hard to tell when these transitions of viewpoint occur so readers should be alert for them.
In summary, Flora is an interesting though not outstanding novel. Godwin’s writing is superb and she paints a colorful view on her main characters but in sum total the book seems to be lacking a bit. Readers who manage to finish will be well rewarded but I anticipate some foot-tapping from those expecting more of a narrative thread along the way.
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