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A Great Film Week

But by-the-numbers 'Elizabeth' is the dog of the bunch



'La Vie en Rose'


Finally, opening locally on Friday, Oct. 26, is Julie Taymor’s ( Frida ) homage to Beatles music, Across the Universe , a film that uses the Liverpool group’s songs to tell a generational love story. The trailer looks promising. Rated PG-13 for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language. 141 m. At the Broadway.

In a somewhat similar vein is Wes Anderson’s ( Rushmore ; The Royal Tenenbaums ) The Darjeeling Limited , about three estranged brothers who set off across India by train on a spiritual journey. With Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. Rated R for language. 101 m. At the Broadway.

Directed by Peter Hedges ( About a Boy ; Pieces of April ), Dan in Real Life is a romantic comedy about a single father (Steve Carrell) who falls for a woman (Juliette Binoche) he meets in a bookstore, only to discover the woman is dating his brother (Dane Cook). Will it work out? Who cares, I would never miss Binoche. Rated PG-13 for some innuendo. 108 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Playing at three theatres is the likely box-office winner next weekend, Saw IV . This splatter film hardly needs an introduction. Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language. 118 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.

The indie film Love Is the Drug is a dark tale of drug using teens and a love triangle. This is a debut for director Elliott Lester, and I am always happy to support independent films, this one from Alpine Pictures. Rated R for pervasive drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexual content and an act of violence — all involving teens. 106 m. At the Minor.


ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE: Inexplicably, this film was not reviewed by either Bob Doran or Jay Herzog in my absence despite Hank Sims’ extravagant preview (“for my money, the pick of the week ...”). So here I am. I go against my editor with some fear and trembling, but if you want to see a really good film with a great performance, see Michael Clayton , a film that was rightfully praised in the Journal by Bob and even drove another local reviewer to wax poetic.

If on the other hand you desire a terminally mediocre, entirely unnecessary film with a good performance or two, then Elizabeth: The Golden Age is your ticket. Set largely in 1588, a year that most of the target audience will immediately recognize, the story centers on the events leading up to the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish fleet, with a side of “romance” between Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) and Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) thrown in for good measure.

Elizabeth maintains her virginity, her attendant Bess (Abbie Cornish, Candy ; A Good Year ) hops into bed with Raleigh, Mary is executed, the English ships rout the Spanish, the perfidious Roman Catholics are thwarted by the stalwart Protestants, and the golden age begins. End of story. It’s impossible not to enjoy Blanchett, but Shekhar Kapur, who helmed the first Elizabeth , directs by the numbers.

The politically inclined could draw a comparison between how Elizabeth handled a crisis in 1588 with how George Bush handled one in 2001. I’m pretty sure, though, that Bush won’t get his golden age. Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and nudity. 124 m. At the Broadway.

RENDITION:*Rendition* , directed with a nice political balance by South Africa’s Gavin Hood ( Tsotsi ), is about the CIA’s practice of arresting people suspected of terrorist ties, turning them over to a foreign country whose scruples about torture are not particularly fine-tuned, then denying that the person was ever abducted (or even existed). The rendered victim here is Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally, Munich ) who is snatched by CIA agents at an airport when he attempts to return to Chicago from a conference in Cape Town. He’s bundled off to North Africa, where he is brutally questioned about his possible ties to terrorists by police chief Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor), all of which is monitored by CIA agent Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The North Africa scenes are intercut with Anwar’s wife Isabella’s (Reese Witherspoon) attempt to find out what happened to her husband, to which end she enlists the help of former boyfriend Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), who is now an aide to powerful senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin). But he makes little headway against the steely head of the rendition program Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep).

The film is careful to mention that the rendition program was started under Clinton, although its use grew considerably after 9/11. The acting is uniformly good, particularly that by Streep and Witherspoon. Streep is effortlessly scary, while Witherspoon uses her signature sweetness to telling effect as the desperate spouse committed to discovering the truth. The narrative is somewhat cluttered by subplots, a major one involves Fawal’s daughter, but this is a minor quibble in a film that is very effective overall.

All the principals in the story seem to sincerely believe that their courses of action are totally necessary and correct, leaving the viewer to decide about the ethics and morality of the rendition program. Frankly, though, the correct path doesn’t seem all that hard to discover. Rated R for torture/violence (none of which seems gratuitous to me) and language. 130 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD: I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a commercial American film that let scenes run their full course, as is the case with the latest version of the Jesse James legend. Typically, scenes in commercial films reach their emotional key point fairly quickly and the scene doesn’t linger much beyond that point. No need to waste the viewer’s time, after all.

The Assassination of Jesse James lingers over its individual scenes seemingly well past the time necessary to get across the key information, much like many French films. The 160-minute running time allows for this lingering, of course, but the technique results in the viewer being distanced from the emotional content of the story, much like Brecht intended with his plays. This distancing effect is buttressed by the use of voice-over narration (provided by Hugh Ross) that connects the film’s scenes and gives the viewer a flavor of novelist Ron Hansen’s style in the novel from which the film is adapted.

Of the various performances in the film the standout one is by Casey Affleck as the coward Robert Ford of the film’s title. From the moment we see Robert, he emanates a creepy naivete, and from this point Affleck skillfully builds his character, stealing every scene he is in; Bob Ford becomes the film’s main character.

Brad Pitt is okay as Jesse, Sam Shepard puts in an all-too-brief appearance (particularly for my partner) as his brother Frank and Mary-Louise Parker is very good as Jesse’s wife, Zee. But it is New Zealand director Andrew Dominik’s filmic style that drives this version of the James story. That style may not be to everyone’s taste, but it fit mine. Rated R for some strong violence and brief sexual references. 170 m. At the Broadway.

LA VIE EN ROSE: This biopic about treasured French cabaret singer Edith Piaf breaks no new ground for its genre. But, then, people who go to films about celebrities do so, generally, because of their interest in the subject not because they are seeking an innovative film.

The arc of La Vie En Rose is firmly in the triumph over tragedy vein and, indeed, Piaf (1915-1963) had a particularly harsh life. She was a sickly child whose mother left her alone on the streets for long periods of time. Her father, a street acrobat/contortionist, finally claimed her, but joined the French army during World War I, leaving Edith to be raised in her grandmother’s house of prostitution. Just when she forms a bond with one of the prostitutes, Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner), her father returns from the war and takes her off with him to a traveling circus.

Her adult life continues to be dogged with tragedy and disappointment, including a doomed love affair with married boxer Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins).

Director Olivier Dahan avoids the birth-to-death structure by beginning the film in 1959, then inter-cutting between scenes from Piaf’s life in the second half of the ’50s and early ’60s with scenes from her childhood and early singing career.

But what we really have is the wonderful songs of Piaf herself, lip-synced by Marion Cotillard and the absolutely wonderful performance by Cotillard herself. That was enough for me. Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, sexual content, brief nudity, language and thematic elements. 150 m. At the Minor.

GONE BABY GONE: I am a huge fan of author Dennis Lehane, who has written a number of our best genre novels as well as episodes of The Wire . Mystic River was the first film adaptation of one of his novels, and it is a minor masterpiece. Before writing Mystic River , Lehane wrote a series of novels about private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro of which Gone, Baby, Gone is the fourth (the first, A Drink Before the War , won the 1995 Shamus for Best First P.I. Novel).

The film adaptation, very effectively directed by Ben Affleck, may not be quite up to the level of Mystic River but it comes very close. Clearly, Affleck knows South Boston very well and the film wonderfully evokes the mixed, complex neighborhood where Catholicism uneasily coexists with drug dealers and a variety of ethnic groups.

Gone Baby Gone may be in the P.I. genre, but it is darker than most noirs. The story involves a kidnapped 4-year-old girl, daughter of a mostly unfit, druggy, self-centered young mother, Helene (a very good Amy Ryan). Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, the only good thing in the recent Heartbreak Kid ) are hired by the child’s Aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) to help because Kenzie “knows the neighborhood.” He is not readily accepted by Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), head of the Missing Children Division or Detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), but they manage to work together.

But this is much more than a missing child case. The film delves into very complex moral and ethical issues and refuses to give the viewer an easy solution. Indeed, there really is no solution in this complex world. As one cop says in response to a question about another cop being dirty: “What’s dirty?” In this film, everyone is dirty to one degree or another, and Gennaro should have heeded her reluctance to take on the case. With its complex narrative and excellent acting, particularly by Affleck and Monaghan, this film is a winner. Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language. 124 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.


10 COMANDMENTS. Rated PG. At The Movies.

3:10 TO YUMA. Rated R. At The Movies and the Minor.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT. Rated R. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE COMEBACKS. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

GAME PLAN. Rated PG. At The Movies, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

GOOD LUCK CHUCK. Rated R. At The Movies.

THE HEARTBREAK KID. Rated R. At The Movies.

INTO THE WILD. Rated R. At the Broadway.

MICHAEL CLAYTON. Rated R. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.


WE OWN THE NIGHT. Rated R. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

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