A review from The Movie Snob:
A Very Long Engagement (B). This is an anti-war movie disguised as a romance. The year is 1920, and even though World War I is over, provincial French girl Mathilde (Audrey Tautou, Amelie) refuses to accept that her fiance, Manech, was killed at the front in 1917. It was reported that he was executed along with four other French soldiers (for the crime of deliberately shooting themselves in hopes of getting sent home), but Mathilde holds out hope that somehow he survived, and she embarks on a quest to find out the truth. A great deal of the movie is told in flashback, and the director vividly depicts the horrors of WWI’s trench warfare and the casual brutality of the men in command each time Mathilde’s investigation turns up new facts. Not a bad movie, although a little long for my taste.
A review from That Guy Named David.
Friday Night Lights (A)
As a kid growing up in small-town Texas, H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights was considered required reading when it came out during high school. I remember reading the book and being amazed at the similarities of 1988 Odessa, Texas and its love of the Permian Panthers with what I was experiencing as a high school football player in a town of 6,000 in South Texas. All my friends that didn’t experience small-town Texas high school football laugh when I describe the treatment that high school football players get where, from August through December, there is nothing more important than what happens under the lights on Friday night. From the small-town radio shows, the autograph sessions at the elementary school and junior high (seriously), the free meals at local restaurants, the “slide under the radar” treatment in many classes (especially on gameday), etc., the town’s obsession with this sport unnaturally places 16 and 17 year old kids on a pedestal from which they feel they can never be knocked. The movie adaption of Friday Night Lights did an artful job of showcasing this treatment and the effect that the sport has on the kids and the community at large. Billy Bob Thornton did an exceptional job portraying the pressures that coaches (who generally make more than every other person at the school) feel to win every game or pack their bags and get out of town. However, I thought the movie and book were best when they profiled the players and various members of the community and the types of problems that they experienced, from racism to alcoholism to effects of the oil bust on an oil town. Perfect adaption of a great book.
From the desk of The Movie Snob:
In Good Company (B). Not a bad little movie. Dennis Quaid plays Dan Foreman, the head of advertising sales for the number one sports magazine in the company, and a happily married man with one daughter in college and another apparently in high school. His comfortable existence is thrown into turmoil by two unexpected events: his wife gets pregnant, and his employer is bought by a corporate mogul along the lines of Rupert Murdoch (cameo by Malcolm McDowell). This results in Dan’s getting demoted to the number two sales spot, and a 26-year-old hotshot named Carter Duryea (Topher Grace) becomes his boss. To make matters even worse, Carter gets romantically involved with Dan’s older daughter Alex (Scarlett Johanssen). The depiction of corporate life in modern America is the most arresting part of the movie, as the magazine’s new owner immediately starts to identify and fire longtime employees in the interest of improving the bottom line. And there are some surprisingly touching moments along the way. Worth a look.
A review from The Movie Snob.
Hotel Rwanda (A). I am not in the habit of describing movies as “must-see” events, but I’ll make an exception for this remarkable movie. It is a story about the genocide that took place in the small African country of Rwanda in 1994. As I understand it, the country consisted of two major tribal or ethnic groups, the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi. Suddenly, and apparently with very little warning, huge numbers of Hutu began massacring their Tutsi neighbors, generally with machetes. The Western countries were agonizingly slow to respond, and within a very short period of time something like one million Tutsis were butchered. This movie covers the span from just before the genocide until its end, which apparently occurred only because a Tutsi rebel faction finally managed to launch a successful counteroffensive and force the Hutu to terms. I saw an article about Rwanda not too terribly long ago, and it reported that there were still numerous Hutu in prison for war crimes that still had not been reached for trial ten years later.
This movie views the genocide from the perspective of one man, a very civilized and urbane Hutu named Paul (Don Cheadle), who manages what is apparently the fanciest four-star hotel in the capital city. We watch through his eyes as the situation rapidly deteriorates–the Westerners are evacuated, refugees fill the hotel in their place, and the handful of UN peacekeepers on hand are utterly impotent to help as the corpses literally pile up in the streets. Mercifully, the director manages to convey the violence and terror with a minimum of graphic close-ups, but the depiction is still extraordinarily effective. Cheadle’s performance is Best Actor caliber, utterly convincing as an ordinary man suddenly called on to save over 1,000 people with nothing but his wits and the connections to the rich and powerful that he has cultivated over the years.
You must see this film.
(For further reading, I recommend The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe and Power in the Heart of Africa, by Bill Berkeley (2001). Also Shake Hands With the Devil, by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire (2003).)
A book review from The Movie Snob:
All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks, by John L. Allen, Jr. (2004). This is a very interesting little book by the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter (an American publication of liberal/progressive leanings). First, Allen gives a very useful thumbnail summary of the various bodies that make up the Catholic hierarchy in Rome, from the Pope on down. He then debunks the “top five myths about the Vatican” before proceeding to explore the psychology, sociology, and theology of the Vatican apparatus. After doing all this in just over 200 pages, he tackles the immense project of trying to explain why the Church in America (to say nothing of the American media) and the Church in Rome seemed to have so much trouble understanding each other when communicating about the clerical-sexual-abuse crisis that erupted in 2002. Finally, he wraps up with a somewhat less thorough analysis of the Vatican’s response to the American military build-up and invasion of Iraq. All in all, a very interesting and enlightening book, if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
A DVD review from The Movie Snob:
Titanic (A-). I recently stayed home from work sick – what better time to watch a three-hour Best Picture that I had never gotten around to seeing? Frankly, I wasn’t expecting it to be very good, having heard over the years that the plot is simplistic and the characters two-dimensional. And those criticisms are valid, but I still really enjoyed the movie. I thought the “Lady and the Tramp” romance between Rose (Kate Winslet, The Reader) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator) was reasonably believable, and the depiction of the doomed ship’s last hours was simply amazing. It must have been incredible on the big screen. I’d say it was well worth the $9 I spent on the DVD at Sam’s.
A review from That Guy Named David:
Million Dollar Baby (A-)
Since it’s the awards season, I figured that I need to get on the ball and start watching some of the movies that will be winning awards over the next couple of months. Million Dollar Baby is definitely one of those movies. Essentially, it’s a boxing movie that dips into serious issues much deeper than the sport itself. Issues of resiliency, poverty, importance of family, and life and death decisions are all packed into this 2-hour winner by Clint Eastwood. The performance by all three lead actors, Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hillary Swank, are Oscar-worthy (and as demonstrated last night at the Golden Globes, Swank is a leading contender (no pun intended) for Best Actress). There is one section of the movie that gets a little sappy and slow, but in our theatre, this slowness was broken up by a woman who passed out, quit breathing, and had to be revived by CPR in the theatre. Seriously. She appeared to be better as they helped her out of the theatre, but it definitely added a different feel to the movie that will not be shared by everyone that goes to see it. Back to the movie, I would say it scores a knock-out, but that would be very cheesy and is not really my style (if I have a style). Overall, it’s the best movie I have seen this year, but the year is only 3 weeks old.