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All Bases Covered

Powerful 'Elah,' 'Chatterley' offer thrilling film experiences

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Previews

No, I can’t get enough of Jane Austen. Opening Friday, Oct. 5, is The Jane Austen Book Club, based on the popular novel by Karen Joy Fowler. Written and directed by Robin Swicord, who wrote the screenplay for Memoirs of a Geisha, the story is about a Jane Austen book club in California whose members begin to realize their lives resemble those in the novels. The excellent cast includes Mario Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman and Jimmy Smits. Obviously my pick for the week. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, brief strong language and some drug use. 116 m. At the Broadway.

The Farrelly brothers return with their twist on Neil Simon’s The Heartbreak Kid. Shifting coasts from the original, the film follows a guy from San Francisco (Ben Stiller) who marries the prototypical blonde bombshell only to catch a yen for a brunette (Michelle Monaghan) while honeymooning in Mexico. That’s two twists already and, frankly, Simon could use some help. Rated R for strong sexual content, crude humor and language. 125 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising is a fantasy/action film based on the novel by British writer Susan Cooper. The story centers on Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) who travels back-and-forth in time to fight the dark forces with the fate of Earth in the balance, as always. With Ian McShane and Frances Conroy. Rated PG for fantasy action and some scary images. 104 m (uncertain). At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

Based on the life of the famous French comic playwright, Molière begins with the playwright establishing his theatre in Paris, bequeathed by King Louis XIV, then proceeds with flashbacks to his earlier traveling troupe days where he learned his craft. Molière’s plays are excellent; I hope the film measures up. In French with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for sexual situations. 139 m. At the Minor.

Wendy Butler of the Eureka Reporter hosts The Hound of the Baskervilles in the second of the Eureka Library’s October series “Watching the Detectives.” The famous 1939 film stars, of course, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The program starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. at the Main Library on Tuesday, Oct. 9.

Reviews

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: For the second week in a row, a film opened locally that provides a powerful viewing experience. In the Valley of Elah (the title comes from the Biblical story of David and Goliath) draws its power by using a familiar narrative variation of the police procedural — an “amateur detective” clashes with a regular police detective, but the two end up working together to solve the case.

Writer/director Paul Haggis then complicates and deepens that pattern with a subtext that deals with the ties of family, military tradition and the consequences of our involvement in Iraq. The mystery aspect is straightforward. Career military officer Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) gets a call that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker), whom he thought was still in Iraq, has gone AWOL from Fort Rudd, N.M. He immediately packs and drives to the small town near Fort Rudd, where he soon discovers that his son has been murdered. He gets little cooperation from the military.

Not really an amateur, having been an MP, he sees that the local police are incompetent and indifferent, save for new female detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a single mother. When he steals his son’s cell phone from the base, he discovers some disturbing images. Additionally, he gets deceptive stories from the soldiers who were out with his son the night of the murder.

What suffuses the whole story, though, is Iraq. Hank and his wife, Joan (Susan Sarandon in a role that barely registers), have already lost another son in a helicopter “accident,” and Joan suggests that because of Hank’s super-patriotic beliefs neither son would have felt like a real man unless they enlisted. This point is intriguingly developed as we see Hank interact with Emily’s young son. As Hank discovers more about his son’s activities in Iraq and back in the states, he discovers things he did not expect: about his son, himself, the Army and the country. Jones and Theron make an excellent team and their fine acting propels this film, helping to illuminate its complexities.

While Hank is in New Mexico, a package arrives from his son, sent from Iraq; it is a tattered flag that flew from his armored vehicle. At the end of the film, Hank displays the flag back in his hometown in Tennessee. It’s a devastating moment, but not for the reason you might surmise. Highly recommended. Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity. 134 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

LADY CHATTERLEY: Let’s see. What’s a bored, young, beautiful wife who’s married to a wealthy wheelchair-bound sickly husband to do? Well, she can make tea, take baths, host dinner parties for her husband’s friends ... or, perhaps, there’s the walk through the woods to the virile gamekeeper’s hut.

French director Pascale Ferran adopted his take on the Lady Chatterley story from a lesser-known second version entitled John Thomas and Lady Jane, and even though the story still takes place in England, the lovers here profess their passion in French and already the erotic bar is raised.

As with many French films that make there way over here, the film proceeds at a stately pace. Much of the subtext of the tale is told in Ferran’s beautiful, sustained, painterly compositions. We often see the characters against the backdrop of nature, or the camera simply focuses on the surrounding woods. Mirror images are tellingly used as well: Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands, Tell No One) strips in front of a full-length mirror and regards herself as though she wonders how someone other than her husband might see her. When she first sees gamekeeper Oliver Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo’ch) naked to the waist, she runs in confusion, but the image stays in her mind.

The advantage of the film’s pace is that it allows for a slow burn: Constance and Oliver don’t touch each other until a third of the way into the three-hour film, and the first coupling is brief and unfulfilling. Thereafter, though, the fire burns with increasing intensity.

Hands has a perfect combination of innocence and sensuality and Coullo’ch has a nice rough sincerity. The story, which subsumes class issues to personal ones, still deals with how a sexual awakening leads to independence, but Ferran’s take is somehow fresh.

There may be a few too many walks through the woods to the gamekeeper’s hut for some viewers, but I found all three slow hours eminently interesting, even if I should have skipped the morning coffee. I could have done without the periodic screen titles, used as narrative transitions, however, as the action was totally clear. Not rated but the film has full-frontal male and female nudity and simulated sex. 178 m. At the Minor. ENDS THURSDAY, OCT. 4.

FEAST OF LOVE: Based on the National Book Award nominated novel of the same name by Charles Baxter, Feast of Love deals with a group of people struggling with the nature of love and how it affects their lives in a neighborhood in SE Portland.

One way or the other, all the characters are connected to Professor Harry Stevenson (an amiable Morgan Freeman), who has been on leave from teaching philosophy (of course) since he and his wife, Esther (a solid Jane Alexander), lost their adult son to a drug overdose. While coping with his own grief, Harry finds time to counsel the various people who populate the neighborhood, all of whom are struggling, as the film’s title suggests, in various throes of love and sex.

In particular, Harry is close to Bradley (Greg Kinnear), who sees his wife, Kathryn (a wonderful Selma Blair, who sadly disappears from the film all too quickly), ditch him for a woman she meets at a softball game. In fairly quick order, his second wife, Diana (an excellent Radha Mitchell), then leaves him for the married guy with whom she’s been cheating. Thank god three’s a charm; he seemed on his way to becoming a cutter.

Other stories, including a Romeo & Juliet couple involving ex-jock and recovering addict Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and the young, spiritually intense Chloe (Alexa Davalos), intrude on the narrative as well.

This is not a terrible film, just one that’s too easily predictable. For those of us who have circled the old block of life and love a few times, this story demanded some surprises or unexpected insights. Sadly, none are forthcoming; instead, we get homilies about the Greek gods inventing humans, love and then laughter so “they can stand it.” The cast, along with author Charles Baxter, deserve much better than director Robert Benton and screenwriter Allison Burnett (Resurrecting the Champ) serve up. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language. 112 m. At the Broadway.

Continuing

3:10 TO YUMA:Remake of the 1957 Western that made “yuma” universal Cuban slang for “America.” Stars R. Crowe, C. Bale. Rated R. 117 m. At the Broadway, Minor, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Jason Bourne (M. Damon) returns to America to seek out the baddies who scrambled his brain. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies.

THE BRAVE ONE.J. Foster prowls the streets of NYC, looking to pay back the murderers of her fiancé. N. Jordan directs. Rated R. 122 m. At the Broadway.

DEATH AT A FUNERAL:British comedy of errors. “Uproarious!” “Irreverent!” “Riotous!” “Ebullient!” Rated R. 91 m. At the Minor.

DRAGON WARS: Korean kaiju set in L.A., with a touch of Highlanderto complement the marauding monsters. Rated PG-13. 89 m. At The Movies.

EASTERN PROMISES. D. Cronenberg’s Russian mob flick, set in London. With V. Mortensen, N. Watts. Rated R. 100 m. At the Broadway.

GAME PLAN. Superstar quarterback (T. Rock) discovers he has a daughter. Rated PG. 110 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

GOOD LUCK CHUCK. Magic dentist gets all the women he wants, but only once. Then he falls in love — oh noes! Rated R. 96 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: In round five of the series, Harry and the gang buck government orders and found their own secret society. Rated PG-13. 148 m. At The Movies.

THE KINGDOM. All-star FBI team (J. Foxx, C. Cooper, J. Garner) investigates terror bombing in Saudi Arabia, negotiating tricky geopolitics along the way. Rated R. 111 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

MR. WOODCOCK. Man finds his mother has fallen in love with his former high-school gym coach (B.B. Thorton). PG-13. 88 m. At The Movies and the Fortuna.

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION. Nothing to add. Rated R. 94 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

STARDUST: Young man travels to a magical word, seeking a fallen star that will capture the heart of his true love. With C. Danes, M. Pfeiffer, R. De Niro. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.

SUPERBAD. Two awkward teen boys — one crude, one shy — set out to excise their boyhood in one night of partying. Rated R. 113 m. At The Movies and the Minor.

SYDNEY WHITE. In retelling of Snow White, sparky college girl is cast out of her sorority; takes up with the Seven Dorks. Rated PG-13. 108 m. At The Movies.

TRANSFORMERS: A poignant ode to ’80s-era Saturday morning cartoons. Also, a bunch of shapeshifting robots blow each other up. Rated PG-13. 154 m. At The Movies.

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