The Statement. (C) This film had a lot of potential, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Michael Caine (Youth) plays Pierre Brossard, a man living in France, who is under the protection of the Catholic Church. Tilda Swinton (Broken Flowers) plays Annemarie Livi, a French investigator charged with finding Brossard, who as a young man was involved in the assassination of Jews following the Nazi invasion of France in the 1940’s. Although Brossard had received a presidential pardon, Livi wants Brossard because he would have information as to who else was involved in the assassination of the Jews, and who must now be part of the French political elite who have been protecting Brossard for years. Jeremy Northam (Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius) plays Colonel Roux, who assists Livi in helping to track down Brossard. One problems for Livi and Roux is that they are not the only ones trying to catch Brossard. An underground Jewish organization has sent assassins to kill Brossard. As the plot unfolds, not all is as it appears (don’t want to give any spoilers). In any event, the timeline on this one seems a little contrived and the resolution of the investigation leaves one still asking questions and otherwise a little dissatisfied with the outcome.
Into the Wild (A-). Maybe this is more of a B+, I can’t decide, but in any event it is a good movie. I remember seeing a story about this kid on 20/20 years ago, and it was an attention-grabber. After finishing college in 1990, Chris McCandless simply dropped off the grid. Without ever getting in touch with his family, he started hiking and hitchhiking all over the country for the next two years. He read the classics, did some illegal river rafting without a permit, hung out with some hippies for a while, and eventually reached his goal of going alone into the Alaskan wilderness. Frankly, I went into this movie expecting not to like McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch, Lone Survivor), pegging him for a whiny Holden Caulfield type with nothing really to complain about. But I had him pegged wrong, at least if the movie is to be believed. To be clear, I still think he was an odd guy, but perhaps not without reasons. I do wonder how much of this movie is solidly grounded in fact and how much is made up. Anyway, I was engrossed, even though it comes it at a longish 2 hours and 20 minutes. Directed by Sean Penn (The Crossing Guard).
India: Kingdom of the Tiger (B-). Thanksgiving can mean only one thing — time for another trip to Arkansas’s only IMAX theater on Friday evening for Family Fun Night. The price has gone up to $5.50, but that’s still a pretty good deal for an IMAX movie, popcorn, and a coke. I note that this was actually a 2002 release; seems like Little Rock’s IMAX offerings are usually less than cutting edge. Anyway, this is a movie about the Bengal tiger, which has now been pushed close to extinction. (The movie asserts that there about 3000 specimens left in the wild). Along with the expected high-quality footage of the tigers, we also get the story of one of India’s first conservationists, Jim Corbett. He actually started out a famous tiger hunter, and we see him in action, stalking a maneating tiger that killed 20+ people before Corbett tracked it down. But later in his career, Corbett was a principal mover in the founding of India’s national parks. Not bad, if not one of the best IMAX offerings.
Look Both Ways: (B+): This is a heart-warming independent Australian film. It’s a story of two people who see tragedy all around them. Nick is a photo-journalist who is diagnosed with testicular cancer, which has metastasized. Meryl is an artist, who has just returned home from her father’s funeral. Throughout the story cartoonish images from the characters’ minds flash onto the screen, bringing a very artsy flavor to the film. The story is probably summed up by Nick’s mother who says that every person must find his own way of learning to face and live with death. This is a rental that is worth the price. Note: Because of the accents, it took some time for my ear to become attuned to the dialogue.
My Life With the Saints, by James Martin, S.J. (2006). No, this is not a first-person account by a member of the NFL team from New Orleans. Martin is a Jesuit priest who has written a series of vignettes about various saints and what they have meant to him on his own spiritual journey. I started this book while traveling in Italy and finished it after I got back, but that was a couple of weeks ago, and I just haven’t been inclined to review it. On the plus side, it has some interesting stories about the 16 “saints” it covers. And yet . . . I just didn’t care for it. For one, I am pretty sure that not all of the people Martin talks about are actually Catholic saints. Like Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Pedro Arrupe. Maybe I’m wrong about that. For another, Martin’s stories about how these saints were relevant to him kind of bug me. And for yet another, it bugs me that his stories bug me, because he has undeniably done some incredible stuff — washing the poor with Mother Teresa’s nuns in Jamaica, working with gang members in Chicago, working with refugees in Kenya. So I feel bad that I don’t particularly like his writing about himself. But I just don’t. The book has won some awards, though, so maybe it will reach you in a way that it did not reach me.
Decoy (B-). This entry from my film noir collection has an odd sci-fi element. A crook is going to the gas chamber for stealing $400,000 and murdering someone in the process. He won’t tell anyone, even his gorgeous girlfriend, where he’s stashed the loot. But she hatches a scheme to grab the loot by reviving him after his execution with a weird chemical called “methylene blue.” To carry out her plan, she seduces an idealistic doctor who also happens to be the state’s medical examiner at executions. It’s kind of silly, but it gets sort of fascinating as the body count piles up, and we gradually realize that this femme fatale makes Kathleen Turner’s character in Body Heat look like a girl scout. Adding to the sense of unease is the fact (disclosed in the following short documentary) that the starring actress, Jean Gillie, appeared in only one other film and then died of pneumonia at the age of 34. Now that’s noir.
The Jane Austen Book Club (B+). Okay, my grade for this flick is probably a little high. It’s just a cute, somewhat predictable movie about five gals and a guy who start a book club to read (duh) Jane Austen. And wouldn’t you know it, their lives kind of mirror the various plots from the books they’re reading! Featuring a large cast that includes Maria Bello (The Cooler), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), Jimmy Smits (Revenge of the Sith), and Lynn Redgrave (Peter Pan, 2003 version), this is sort of like the movie version of comfort food. If you have read some or all of Jane Austen’s novels, you’ll probably enjoy it a little more than if you haven’t. And, if you’re like me, the movie will make you want to go read the ones you haven’t.
I loved this movie. Test of a good scary movie? Easy, did you get chills at any point during the movie? This movie gave me the hee-bee jee-bees on at least three occasions. It is certainly worth checking out. 1408 is derived from a short story of the same title written by Stephen King. The short story is about a journalist and critic who travels the country visiting haunted hotels and places. He scopes out the locations and prepares books on the subject, e.g, the ten scariest places to sleep, the ten creepiest cemeteries, etc … I actually read the short story several years ago and found it to be clever and entertaining. I am not one of those people that are critical of Stephen King because his writing amounts to little more than today’s pulp fiction. He deserves more credit. Stand by Me, The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption, let’s be fair, the guy is good. A little plot. 1408 is a hotel room in a old hotel. No one that enters 1408 for any extended period of time ever comes out okay. In the near 100 year history of the hotel there have been over fifty deaths in the room. Some natural, others not so natural. For some time, no one has been allowed to stay in 1408. It has maid service once a month. The maids do not close the door. The hotel managers stands in the door way and supervises the cleaning. The room is evil. Our intrepid hero, played ably in the movie by John Cusack (The Paperboy), is intrigued and decides to spend the night in the room. I will leave the rest of the story and plot to those who may want to read the story or watch the movie. I give it an “A.” This would have been a great Halloween movie. You could always wait until next Halloween to catch it.
I am sucker for all things science fiction. I am such a sucker for all things science fiction that I suspended all reason and logic and rented this movie. Starring a blood drinking Billy Bob Thornton (he does no blood drinking in this movie) and Virginia Madsen (I really like her, why has she only been in one really great movie?) this movie follows the adventures of a farmer who is trying to build his own space rocket to launch himself into orbit around the earth. This movie is a little hokey. Okay, it is a lot hokey. The short plot is crazy farmer starts building rocket, nearly loses family and farm in the process, his family rallies around him, and the crazy farmer achieves his dream. This movie is Field of Dreams without the baseball. I give it a “B.”
Dan in Real Life (C). I thought the previews made this movie look too saccharine for my taste, but I like Steve Carell (Anchorman) and read some good reviews. Plus, the movie I really wanted to see was sold out. (For the second time!) I’m not revealing any spoilers by telling you the set-up: Carell plays Dan, an advice columnist and widower with three daughters from maybe 8 to 16. He takes his girls to his parents’ house for a big family Thanksgiving, and, while he’s alone in the small town where they live, he meets and falls for a charming woman (Juliette Binoche, Summer Hours). He goes back to his parents’ house, his brother Mitch arrives, and Mitch’s new girlfriend turns out to be none other than . . . Juliette Binoche. The rest of the movie is the processing of this set-up. My basic problem with the movie is that I just didn’t believe it. Carell’s character behaves too badly for the saintly guy he is made out to be. His family is excruciatingly cute and cuddly and close. I just didn’t buy it. See it at your own risk.
Crime Wave (B-). Continuing through my film noir DVD collection, I watched this movie featuring a young Charles Bronson (then known as Charles Buchinsky). Two hardcases break out of prison and go on a crime spree. They kill a cop in Los Angeles, and the whole force is out gunning for them. One hard-boiled detective is convinced the crooks are going to contact an ex-con on parole, Steve Lacey, who’s now married and working a straight job as a mechanic. Sure enough, they do, and Lacey is suddenly caught between criminals who’ll kill him if he doesn’t help them out and a cop who’ll put him away again if he does. Not a bad little movie.