228: Stumbling into ‘Pineapple Express’ or Dancing in Ireland with Meryl Streep?

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W
e often devote Thursdays to “guest writers” and we’re extending Ed McNulty’s voice one more day here to share a seasonal movie review he sent to us in honor of the recent Aug. 1 holiday of Lughnasa.
    At first, as I planned for this week’s stories, I wondered whether you’d want to read another film review by Ed, after his wonderfully challenging Top 10 list that we published on Wednesday.
    The answer came to me, though, after I watched this weekend’s main contender for blockbuster status on Wednesday, a drug-infused comedy-caper film called “Pineapple Express.”

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    If you’re a Baby Boomer somehow strangely nostalgic for “Up in Smoke” 30 years ago with Cheech and Chong — or if you’re among the late-teen and 20-something viewers who surrounded me in a theater on Wednesday, many of whom seemed to enjoy the film, then maybe “Pineapple Express” is a hillarious comedy, after all.
    It stars red-hot Seth Rogen, the big guy with the curly hair from “Knocked Up,” as a dope-smoking slacker who pays his bills by serving subpoenas for the courts. His one real friend in the world seems to be his drug dealer and together they form a sort of Cheech-and-Chong duo, who get caught up in crimes way way over their heads.
    On one level it’s old-fashioned slapstick comedy. There are basic routines here we’ve seen from the days of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis — and we catch on pretty quickly that the film really is about sending all sorts of Hollywood conventions up in smoke. There are lampoons here of everything from Ninja martial arts films to science fiction, high school coming of age films to Vietnam War movies.
    There are a surprising number of religious references — and even a pretty obvious lampoon of the final scene in “Pulp Fiction” in which criminals converge and experience a famous moment of grace in a booth at a restaurant. In “Pineapple Express,” the characters form an actual prayer circle in their big scene in the restaurant booth — until one of them falls asleep.
    I could be wrong — and, please, tell us what you think — but I’d say this one falls somewhere in the critical categories McNulty calls “Harmless Throwaway Films” and “Toxic junk.”
    It’s not that we’re too prudish to laugh at a movie about drug dealers. “In Bruges” ranks among Ed’s Top 10 DVDs for fall viewing and I agree with him. If you want a sophisticated comedy caper with a truly breathtaking final sequence — rent or buy “In Bruges.” But there’s a whole cosmic realm of reflection between “Bruges” and “Pineapple Express.”

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    So, here’s one more short piece from Ed McNulty — one extra review he sent along to all of us as a breath of fresh air, if you’re looking for an alternative to the smoke-filled theater this weekend:

    A Meryl Streep film that I enjoy this time of year is “Dancing at Lughnasa,” the story of one summer in the lives of five poor Irish sisters, one of whom wants to take part in the holiday festival.
     Streep plays Kate the oldest of the five, and a dour, strict Catholic always concerned with doing the proper thing. A teacher at the local church school, it is her meager salary, plus the small amount all five earn by making gloves, that puts food on their table. One of the sisters, Christine, has a boy born out of wedlock, whom her four sisters dote on. The lover Gerry, away traveling on his motorbike, returns for a brief reunion before heading off to fight against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
    The rather feeble-minded sister Rose is the one who wants to go with a man to the Feast of Lughnasa, something that almost ends in tragedy.
    All of the sisters are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their brother Jack who has been a Catholic missionary to Africa. However, when he gets off the bus, his unkempt appearance and eccentric behavior scandalizes the parish priest and parishioners who are on hand to greet him. It seems that “the heathen” have influenced him more than he them.

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    As the summer unfolds, we see that Jack has become a much more grace-filled person than Kate, the two standing in stark contrast, one narrow and joyless whereas the other is tolerant and life-affirming.
    There are other plot lines (I wrote more about this in an article, “Celebration of Dance in Cinema,” in Christianity and the Arts, Fall 2000), but my main point is that the film (and play on which it is based) assert that when Christianity becomes so severely judgmental and life-denying, a dose of paganism can be a healthy thing.
    The film concludes with a marvelous piece of Irish music to which all five sisters, even Kate, dance as a sign of their all too brief sense of joy and abandonment to the moment. Kate has been let go from the school because of her unsavory brother, and a glove factory is about to open, thus cutting off the other source of the sisters’ income. But for a brief moment all, including the ex-priest brother, the boy, and the sister’s lover who stand by watching, are caught up in the moment of bliss.
    Those who have seen the play tell me that the original is far better, but I love the film almost as much as “Zorba the Greek.”

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