The Painted Veil

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The Painted Veil (B). Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) and Naomi Watts (King Kong) star in this beautifully filmed tale of love and adventure in 1920s China. Norton plays a British bacteriologist working in Shanghai, and Watts is the socialite wife he adores but cannot make happy. When he discovers that she is having an affair, he signs up to go into the Chinese heartland to fight a cholera epidemic, and he drags his wife along with him to punish her. Their personal drama plays out against a backdrop of political, and especially anti-Western, turmoil. Good movie.

Volver

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Volver (B+). This is only the second movie directed by Pedro Almodovar that I have ever seen. The other one was Talk to Her, which I found incredibly repugnant. Only a glowing review of this new movie on National Review Online got me into the theater to see it. And rather to my surprise, I really liked it. It is about the women in a family from the Spanish village of La Mancha and the men who hurt them. Seriously, there are very few men in this movie, and the few there are have very little screen time. Penelope Cruz (Nine) plays Raimunda, a woman who has a no-good husband, a teen-aged daughter, a single sister, and a close female friend named Agustina. The ghost of her deceased mother also plays an important role. Although the women in the film have generally been done wrong by men (almost entirely off-screen, happily), they survive and pull through by pulling together. Cruz does a fine job and probably deserves her Oscar nomination.

The Last King of Scotland

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The Last King of Scotland (B+). I have avoided seeing The Departed because I tell myself that I don’t like violent movies. Yet, now I have seen three pretty violent movies in a row, and liked them all. This one is getting Oscar buzz for Forest Whitaker’s (The Crying Game) portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and he does turn in a typically fine performance. However, I also thought that James McAvoy (Becoming Jane) did a very good job as a young Scottish doctor who goes to Uganda more or less on a whim, by sheer coincidence gets brought into Amin’s inner circle, and ultimately is very, very lucky to escape from the murderous dictator with his life. The fact that Amin died in comfortable exile in Saudi Arabia only a few years ago is a travesty of justice. Good movie, but be prepared for some pretty gruesome violence.

Pan’s Labyrinth

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Pan’s Labyrinth (B+). This is a dark and violent movie, but very well-made. The setting is Spain, 1944. The civil war is basically over, but there are still a few Communists at large in the forests and mountains. A cruel Fascist military captain in command of a garrison in a remote area summons his new wife, who is pregnant, to join him. She is a widow, and she brings her young daughter and the movie’s protagonist, Ofelia. Ofelia loves fairy tales and gets caught up in one of her own. A fantastic creature calling himself a faun tells her that she is really a princess from an underground kingdom, and she must perform three heroic tasks in order to rejoin her family below. The movie alternates between Ofelia’s fantasies (or are they real?) and the cruelty and violence of the real world. Not a very cheerful movie, but a compelling one nonetheless. The little girl (Ivana Baquero) who plays Ofelia is exceptional.

Children of Men

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Children of Men (B). A bleak action movie set in England in the year 2027. Some 18 years earlier, every single woman on the planet was mysteriously rendered infertile, and no children have been born since. Despair is widespread. Suicide kits are advertised on television. England itself has become a police state engaged in a massive campaign to deport illegal immigrants and torn apart by terrorist movements. Clive Owen (King Arthur) plays Theo, a depressed guy who works in some government bureaucracy. His joyless existence is shaken up when his ex-wife (played by Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right), now a member of a terrorist group, contacts him and seeks his help in smuggling a young black woman out of the country. The young woman’s amazing secret—she’s pregnant. The politics and some of the character’s motivations are a tad murky, but the depiction of a dystopian, childless future is convincing, and the action sequences are compelling. Owen confirms his talent as an actor once again, turning in a fine performance as an ordinary guy caught up in extraordinary events. Grim, but worth a look.

Caesar: Life of a Colossus

Book review from The Movie Snob

Caesar: Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy (2006). This is biography at its finest. Goldsworthy truly brings Julius Caesar and all of ancient Rome to life in this roughly 500-page treatment of the great general’s life and career. It is exceptionally well-written, contains a sprinkling of helpful maps and diagrams illustrating some of the most important battles, and has some nice black-and-white photos in the middle of Roman artwork depicting Caesar and the other main players in the saga—Crassus, Pompey, Cicero, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and of course Caesar himself. If you have any interest at all in ancient Rome, you will love this book.