Closure: The Problem With Money (A). This is a locally produced independent movie that has not yet been picked up for national distribution, but negotiations for a possible distribution deal are apparently underway. A friend of mine is a star in the movie, so I was privileged to attend a screening at a local Methodist church several days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll keep you faithful readers informed if I learn anything else about a theatrical release.
The first thing to say is that Closure is a Christian movie — indeed, a pivotal scene takes place in the very church where I saw the film — but I think it should appeal to everyone who is open-minded and sincerely looking for the answers to life’s biggest questions. The plot is a generally familiar one — a worldly and successful businessman named John Money gets a visit from the Angel of Death and learns that he has about 24 hours to live. Once he’s convinced that he’s not hallucinating, he goes on a quest to figure out if he has lived his life as a good person, if there’s really a heaven, and how to get there. The acting is quite good and the dialogue is very believable, and together these elements effectively draw you into the story of a man suddenly confronted with his own mortality in a stark way. Although the message is certainly a Christian one, I did not at all feel that the movie was too “preachy” or anything like that. It is simply a good, family-friendly movie, and although the topic is serious, it is not without its humorous moments. I particularly enjoyed the off-beat characterization of the Angel of Death as a disorganized guy who likes Hawaiian shirts and eclairs and who wants people to call him “Lucky.” I also must give a special shout out to my friend Susan, who does a terrific job playing John Money’s wife Vanessa — a gentle and decent soul who is a little perplexed at her husband’s sudden interest in theological issues.
I hope you have a chance to see this fine movie, which is clearly a labor of love. I’ll keep you posted on its distribution prospects!
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (B-). This new comedy was co-produced by the ubiquitous Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I read somewhere that Apatow once said something to the effect that he makes movies that are both conservative and raunchy. This flick is off-the-deep-end in vulgarity, but I didn’t really detect any conservative messages or subtexts. Anyhoo, the story is an archetypal male fantasy. An ordinary joe (Jason Segel, The Five-Year Engagement) gets dumped by his attractive TV-star girlfriend (Kristen Bell, When in Rome), only to meet and connect with an even more attractive girl (Mila Kunis, The Black Swan)–right in front of the ex-girlfriend’s face! And a pretty standard comedic nightmare gets employed too: the guy is so distraught by getting dumped that he impulsively takes off for Hawaii–and ends up at the same hotel as his ex-girlfriend and her rock-star lover! I definitely enjoyed some laughs at the various situations, and sure you root for the guy to end up with the new girl instead of ever getting back with the old one. And what a pleasant surprise to see Steve Landesberg from the old Barney Miller show turn up in a small part! If you can handle lots of vulgarity and male nudity, you might enjoy this movie. All others should steer clear.
Avril Lavigne. Okay, safe to say that this was not my idea. The Borg Queen dragged me to this little musical event, although I will say that I did not protest too much since she paid. Anyhoo, I am not exactly an Avril fan–pretty much the only song of hers I would say I’m very familiar with is the one about “Why’d’ya hafta go and make things so complicated?” But I was game to hear what the younger crowd is listening to these days. First, the opening act was a band called “Boys Like Girls.” Judging from the number of “Boys Like Girls” t-shirts that I saw being worn, this band has at least a decent following here in the Dallas area. But I thought they were terrible. Just very loud noise, and unnecessarily vulgar. Fortunately I brought cotton balls to stuff in my ears, or I would have gone half deaf and had a terrible headache to boot.
Avril’s set was much more pleasant, although still loud enough to justify cotton balls. I was expecting her to be much more punk, but as a friend of mine at work remarked, she’s leather and cotton candy, not real punk. She wore tons of dark and glittery eye makeup, and I guess her clothes were sort of punk, but she was so friendly and smiley the whole time that there really was no punk effect. Also, I was very distracted by her striking resemblance to my cousin Anita (minus the ridiculous eye makeup, and her nose is bigger than Anita’s). I sort of recognized probably four of her first five songs, which was nice, but even the songs I didn’t know were decent. And to make the evening even better, the Borg Queen didn’t care to stick around for the encore, so we didn’t have to sit in traffic forever to get out. That’s what I call rock and roll!
Leatherheads (D). Well, I was hoping that the stream of bad reviews had so lowered my expectations for this movie that I would enjoy it regardless of its (lack of) quality. Alas, it was not to be. The scene is the Upper Midwest, 1925. Director George Clooney (TV’s ER) also stars as an aging professional football player and hustler who is trying to keep the whole concept of professional football alive in the face of massive public indifference. He sees his chance in the person of Carter “the Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski, TV’s The Office), a WWI hero and nationally famous footballer for Princeton. He manages to lure Rutherford to play for his team (the Duluth Bulldogs), and attendance soars. But a tough newspaper reporter (Renee Zellweger, Miss Potter) is worming her way into Carter’s life on a tip that his war-hero record is trumped up. The makers of the movie shoot for screwball comedy, but without much success. Zellweger is miscast, and she and Clooney have no chemistry. The inherently likeable Krasinski plays an inherently likeable Rutherford, and when the movie abuses him it makes the movie itself unlikeable. I expected to leave disappointed, but I left actively annoyed.
That Guy Named David checks in with a review of the Boss’s Dallas concert
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (A-)
I first saw Springsteen when he came to town a few years back to do an acoustic show at the Nokia Theatre. While I was very impressed with that show, I was told by a friend that it was nothing compared to the type of show he puts on when he is complemented with the full band. The friend was right. For a little over 2 hours last Sunday, Springsteen and band brought a high-energy, very entertaining show to the American Airlines Center. The show started out with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and proceeded to go back and forth between the stuff from the new album (Magic) and his classics. There were a few obscure choices (“Meeting Across the River,” “Independence Day”), but for the most part, the songs were well-known to the vast majority of the baby boomer crowd. The highlights of the night for me were “Because the Night,” “Long Walk Home” and “Badlands” in the initial set; however, the energy of the show really picked up in the encore with “Born to Run,” “Glory Days” (with Jon Bon Jovi), and “Dancing in the Dark.” I was a little disappointed that “Thunder Road” was not played, given that they opened with it a few shows back (and played it again the next night in Houston); however, overall, it was a great performance by great artists. Solid A-.
Brazilian Adventure, by Peter Fleming (Northwestern University Press 1999). First, the backstory. Peter Fleming was a British journalist and the brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. In 1927, a British colonel named P.H. Fawcett led an expedition into the Amazon jungle and disappeared. In 1932, somebody mounted an expedition to try to find out what had happened to Colonel Fawcett, and Peter Fleming, a literary editor in his 20s, signed up. This is his account of his own ill-fated expedition, which avoided complete disaster but consisted mostly of one minor fiasco after another. I found his style to be irresistibly amusing. After meeting the expedition’s mysterious leader, Major Pingle, and learning his plan for the journey, he writes, “It almost looked as if we had a chance of something better than an honourable failure.” Writing of a fantastically remote campsite in which he and his two companions could have been attacked by jaguars or hostile natives, he confesses, “We saw nothing more formidable than a toad, detected in the act of climbing into my trouser pocket as I slept. If I knew my job, I should say it was a man-eating toad; but I cannot slander so trustful a creature.” I enjoyed the book quite a bit, not least because I know I am never going to do anything so crazy.
The Best Years of Our Lives (B+). This movie won the Best Picture Oscar (and several others) in 1946, and was probably seen as an unflinching portrayal of the problems of G.I.’s returning to their civilians lives after WWII. It is mild and overly sentimental by today’s standards, but very good nonetheless. It’s also very long, almost 3 hours, so I watched it in two sittings. In the first hour we meet our three protagonists, ex-servicemen who happen to meet on their way to their mutual home town of Boone City. There’s middle-aged Sergeant Al Stevenson (Fredric March, I Married a Witch), who’s returning to a comfortable job in banking and an established family. There’s youngish Air Force Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, Laura), who’s returning to a wife he barely knows, having married impulsively just before shipping out. And there’s the youngest of the trio, Sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), who’s returning to a loving family and childhood sweetheart but is tormented by the fact that he lost his hands in the war. (Russell was a non-actor veteran who had lost his hands in a military training accident.) In the next two hours, we see how these three men adjust to their new situation. Old-fashioned in some respects but surprisingly up-to-date in others, this movie is worth seeing.
Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, by Pope Benedict XVI (Doubleday 2007). I’m as Catholic as the next Catholic, but I have to say that I tried a couple of Pope John Paul II’s books and found them very hard going. This one is hardly easy, but I found it more accessible than I feared I might. And there are certainly some interesting insights to be found here. Still, on the whole, I can’t say that the book overwhelmed me. I’m sure that reflects my shortcomings as a reader more than the Pope’s abilities as a writer. I also got his book The Apostles for Christmas, so I will be giving him another chance . . . one of these days . . . .