Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Station Agent

The Station Agent is my new favorite movie of the year, just replacing Whale Rider that came out today on DVD. Wonderful themes of community, kindness, compassion - and just being quiet. Fin is a dwarf who inherits an old train station "house" in rural New Jersey. He cannot rid himself of the kindness of strangers. This is a celebration of the human family.

I went to an art house in Santa Monica and it was about 1/3 full. Amost everyone stayed as the credits rolled, and the folks I saw came out smiling.

In the midst of so many dark films this week, this one is full of light without being a cliche'. See it.

Singing Detective

The Singing Detective is the poor man's version of A Beautiful Mind. Whereas A Beautiful Mind was based on the true story of John Forbes Nsh, Jr. who suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia, Robert Downey, Jr. plays a fictional (from what I can tell) paranoid /schizophrenic writer who hallucinates into song because he witnessed his mother and her lovers' sexual misbehavior as a child. Fine acting but a really weird movie. Mel Gibson's most unusual and creative role yet as the psychoanalyist. (That's a compliment.)

Monday, October 27, 2003

Beyond Borders

Beyond Borders - I liked it. Good acting from Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen. If someone says that the refugees are exploited or the audience's emotions are being unduly engaged, don't listen. I'd give this film a chance. It covers global humanitarian disasters from 1984 to 1995 or so through the experiences of aid workers and an American woman who at first has a bleeding heart, but who then makes good on it. People who live in comfort need to see the effects of the US not banning land mines. And such. Enough moral choices on every level. Lots to talk about.

In the Cut

In the Cut proves that Meg Ryan can act in other roles besides cute ones. However, I'd really need to interview Jane Campion before I would dare to hedge a bet on what this was about. Try a female version of The Bad Lieutenant. This is not pretty, not nice and someone put curry in the apple pie. OK, Blue Velvet also comes to mind. Life under the under belly. Maybe its time to take a look at Jane Campion's women. It's about a lighthouse without any light except the revleation of a truth - and at that point, who cares? Maybe I will feel differently in a couple of years. Meantime, I want to go and watch Seinfeld reruns.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Runaway Jury

The Runaway Jury, based closely on a John Grisham novel, is complex and it sure got my attention. It's about the gun lobby as much as it is about amoral - and moral - lawyers.

Sobering, moving, probably confusing at times, but I felt like I got my money's worth. This is not the run of the mill courtroom drama.


Veronica Guerin

I am writing this entry in "red" and "bold" because in the amazing film, Veronica Guerin, her little car is red and she is so bold in her search for truth about the drug kings of Ireland in the mid-1990's and her efforts, mostly post-mortem, to have the laws protecting unaccountable income confiscated. Her death caused a change in the Irish Constitution.

Cate Blanchett "is" Veronica, and this brief film, only 98 minutes, has such power that it makes you want to do everything you can to support and protect the freedom of the press - for the good of humanity.

I was sorry that on this Monday afternoon I was the only one in the theater (I saw this just after The Runaway Jury - which I don't recommend; seeing both films back to back will wipe you out emotionally)... whereas The Runaway Jury was about 1/3 full.

Please put this one on your list.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Italian Job

Did you happen to notice how many films about Los Angeles use the same locations? Hollywood Homicide and S.W.A.T. both used several of the same as The Italian Job. I thought other heist movies were better - The Thomas Crown Affair (original and remake) for example, and Ocean's Eleven (remake) was a hoot. Honor and dishonor among thieves. In The Italian Job it's easy to note a new filmmaking technique - the gorgeous stars stop, pose and sparkle for the camera as if for a magazine. All in all, it was very entertaining. But don't look to stay awake at 3:00 in the morning thinking about deep, important, meaningful things. Not while you could be driving your Mini Cooper down the train tracks... (In Ocean's Eleven there's no bad language, sex, or violence and it's completely immoral. Now, that's worth talking about!)


Great movie about the little horse that could ... the book made me laugh more, but for a 2 hour version of a book, the film was just fine. Loved the acting... Gosh this past summer had a lot of guy movies. At least this one was based on fact... Will receive the Catholics in Media Award this coming Sunday at the Beverly Hilton. Well deserved (though Bruce Almighty gets my #1 vote!)

Le Divorce

Le Divorce is a comedy of manners and cultural contrast from Merchant Ivory. From the first scene at the Paris Airport, when a Franch and US airliner are shown side by side, we know this is a set-up. This is an artsy film - watch the red handbag. I enjoyed it, it made me chuckle and it offered my sister and I something to talk about. My niece, who is a junior in college, didn't get it and didn't like it. Hard to say if Le Divorce had any deep meaning - don't think so. But it was a fun watch.

Magdalene Sisters

The Magadalene Sisters is a sad, terrible tale based on facts. Irish girls and young women assumed to be "sinners" because they were raped, sexually active or even suspected of being so, were sent to work in laundries run by nuns and the Irish government. These laundries were in existence until the 1990's when the last one was closed.

The film does not show even one sympathetic nun - and this is too bad because there had to have been at least one. But this is two-hour story-telling, so we do not see anything redeeming about the situation except the courage of a few girls to escape and make lives of their own. You can "" this topic or even Magdalenes and find out more information.

To be noted is that some religious communities have admitted and apologized for their role in this injustice. I don't know about the Irish government or the hospitals who benefited from this form of slave labor. It's hard to imagine that very many people would even want to see such a film. On the other hand, once injustices are exposed and owned up to, there is a stronger chance they will not be repeated.

(Please note that this writer does not assume these victims to be "sinners" - this was the what the Irish government, Irish Catholic Church and even the girls' families believed them to be....)


Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Luther begins with a tortured young man pleading with God for forgiveness. He enters a monastery, probably for the wrong reasons. But he studies and learns and knows heresy when he sees it.

I liked this telling of Luther's life, especially because in its two-hour life span it brought in Luther's personality and character, the Catholic Church at that time - almost 500 years ago, and how the "princes" played into Luther's calling the truth as he saw it.

This could be a valuable film for anyone seeking to know more about the Protestant Reformation. It would be interesting to watch this side by side with A Man For All Seasons. Seems to me, a film like this can lead to greater understanding and dialgoue between Protestant and Catholic Christians.

Freaky Friday

This film about a mother and daughter who exchange bodies/identites for twenty-four hours was a lot of fun. It's always a good thing to walk in another person's shoes and see life from adifferent perspective, especially a loved one. Rather than a preachy family movie, it reinforced the idea and value of family. What a difference a day makes.


And the plot was about... studly LAPD characters doing the action thing. Even with a Latina as a token female lead, there was not enough there to impress me. I imagine there will be a sequel.



This feature-length documentary is opening this weekend in Los Angeles, and I must say, I liked it very much. Bonhoeffer's story is fascinating on its own merits. This documentary adds photos, context, theology, history - and ecclesiolgy to his life (1906-1945) that ended when he was executed by the Nazi's for participating in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

His decision to take an active role (however quiet) in the conspiracy was rooted in his contemplation of the Sermon on the Mount.

I hope that Bonhoeffer's contribution to theology and life, how he integrates it, can someday be studied side by side with Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II - the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

There is more that unites than divides Christians.

The movie introduced me into a whole new way of being a follower of Christ in fidelity and relevance. I hope you get to see it.

Open Range

I wish someone could explain to me why this film did so well. I saw it on an August afternoon soon after it opened in suburban Sacramento and I was the youngest person in the theater (+50). Three people rode in sitting in wheel chairs and a couple walked with canes. There were only white people in a theater almost 3/4 full. They clapped at the end.

Aside from the forced, deliberate cinematography and Annette Bening really playing her age, I was not impressed. Two old-ish guys fight off a whole town? The violence as intense as the rest of mainstream action flicks? No realistic social situation to call for such a disproportionate unbelievable response... I didn't "like" the Duvall and Costner characters...

If this was an attempt at some kind of movie nostalgia, it didn't work for me. No subtlety. Bland and boring.


Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Robert Rodriguez' sequel to El Mariachi and Desperado is more of a witness to something than a story anyone can repeat. Johnny Depp is back in another 2003 film, loopy and dangerous, as a CIA operative trying to manipulate Mexican politics. "El" (Antonio Banderas) is out to avenge the murders of his wife and daughter who represent his country, Mexico. It's hard to believe that the creator of the family-friendly Spy Kids franchise could produce a trilogy so violent it repels as it fascinates. But Rodriguez has a theme: family and culture.

Unlike Quentin Tarantino whose ideology seems to be to give back the entertainment he consumed as a kid (taken up a few notches), Rodriguez is always about - family and culture.

The All Souls Day motif in Once Upon a Time in Mexico provides the metaphor: masks. They hide all manner of reality and sins. But to cover up truth also can mean not to see the truth. When Johnny Depp loses his eye, the irony is not lost on us. The film is about pain coming deep from the heart - personal and national.

Whale Rider

Whale Rider was the BEST film of the summer of 2003, the highlight, the blessing. If you were enchanted by "Island of the Blue Dolphin" as a kid, and "Gifts of the Sea" as an adult, then you'll want to experience this quiet contemplation of a young girl's life and her desire to belong to her Maori tribe and make a contribution. There is a deep longing in the film that if you let it, will move you and stay with you. Mythical and mystical.

This movie was more than worth it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Everyone says the Academy won't give an Oscar to a Disney film. If that's the case, I will give Johnny Depp my own Candle Award (I just thought of that!) He is so loopy and fun in this movie - it has to be the most entertaining film of the summer. He owned this movie. Pirates had all the right ingredients - fantasy, history, reality, romance, quirk, adventure ... to name a few. And if you dig a little deeper you can even hit some social justice issues, like the rape of South America's gold that underpinned the economy of Europe for more than 300 years.

This one was worth it.


Daddy Day Care

This is not a great movie, but my 5-year old and 2-year old nephews kept chanting "Daddy Day Care! Daddy Day Care!" And they sat there and watched the film all the way through (my sister was so relieved because she had told them they were going to see Finding Nemo, and it was a week too early!!) As I have said before, the funniest thing was seeing a 3-year old talk Klingon with an adult. The thread about marketing sugar cereals to kids made an important media education point.

Fighting Temptations

Fighting Temptations is a fun movie. Sure, the premise is thin, but it's about the rousing Gospel music and human goodness. You'd have to be a block of wood not to just sit back and enjoy. Not-so-subtle message about the whys, ways and means of the advertising industry, too.

Secondhand Lions

Haley Joel Osmet is still acting like he was in A.I., but if you can look beyond that to the very original story and the eccentric personas of the characters that Robert Duvall and Michael Cane play, you'll have a good time. It's about having dreams and living them - or maybe not. The thing is to be so free on the inside that you can live your dreams. As usual, the trailers have most of the good parts in them, but if you like imagination, this is worth your time. There's a lot of love in Secondhand Lions.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things

In a year filled with dark films, here's another with a difference. This one has to be a contender. It takes place in London. An illegal immigrant from Nigeria tends the front desk at night for a small hotel. The manager is involved in harvesting organs from the willing and the unwilling for profit. The Nigerian man lives illegally with a political refugee from Turkey. She has her own struggles. Just when human dignity seems to be completely lost, an unrequited love story  blooms, fulfilled by great sacrifice. Ends hopefully. Directed by Stephen Frears (Liam). This movie was worth it.


A cautionary tale, written by a fifteen year-old kid. Amazing though dark and desperate. No one "likes" a film like this, but parents, if you are in a listening mode, listen. A "nice" girl goes bad when she hits middle school and mom doesn't have a clue about the kinds of questions she might ask and her kids don't come first. She (Holly Hunter) is not a bad person, just so clueless and without personal resources. She kind of floats through life and when she finally does get involved, we wonder what difference it will make because she just doesn't know what to do.

Mystic River

Dark and despairing story about three friends in a Boston working class neighborhood. Their lives are changed forever when one of the boys is kidnapped while they are playing in the street. Thirty years later, the 19-year-old daughter of the Sean Penn character is murdered. The kidnapped boy, now married and barely able to work (Tim Robbins), and the other friend (Kevin Bacon, a state trooper detective), are thrown back together with devastating results. Not a lot of hope, though the filmmaking is fine - Clint Eastwood's work is excellent. Why such a dark, sad, dead-end story appealed to him (almost a story of despair), I don't know except that I had the same feeling from this as I had from Unforgiven. Bleak. The women are very good - Marcia Gay Hardin and Laura Linney - she's downright Lady MacBeth. For those of us who know Boston, though, it will ring true. Filmed on location in Boston, you feel like you are there.

Under the Tuscan Sun

I loved it. I mean them.

I went out and bought the book right after seeing the movie and though the film and book are not the same, almost all the plot points in the film are in the book. The author, Frances Mayes, calls the film just another "interpretation" of her book. If you've ever dreamed of living in Italy, getting in touch with the land, experiencing life as raw, new and old, read the book and see the movie. Hopeful, beautiful - you feel like you are there. I loved the way the Blessed Mother's presence and influence is woven through both book and movie. What a lovely journey.


Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Quenten Tarantino returns with a two hour sequence of female revenge. When The Bride slays or seriously damages 88 assassins, the audience laughed. Tarantino has made spouting blood and cuts (amputations) a cliche'. It's all about the movie because there is no story. More linear than Pulp Fiction, I don't get the fascination with choreographed slashing as a proposed art form. It is smart (self-referent to the martial arts and such films; includes animation) but I was bored. Some women I met on the way out liked it - they could identify with The Bride who had to do what she did to survive. Huge super-hero comic book wanna be. Unless you are a Tarantino fan, go see Under the Tuscan Sun.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Intolerable Cruelty

George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are fine but the film lacks the loony humor of O Brother Where Art Thou? and the ironic tragedy of Fargo. However, note that the film is not cynical - it's a commentary on the contemporary cynicism about marriage. Ends satisfactorily. Kind of O'Henry-ish

School of Rock

I loved School of Rock. Pro-kid, lots of heart. Amazing talent.

It's easy to see how some parents might get nervous at the way parental authority is questioned, but I think this and other points that might make adults nervous are the very reasons why parents need to see this film - after all, their kids are seeing the film, or talking with kids who have. This way, you can have respectful conversations with your kids about what's important.