Pix & Flix

Movie News & Reviews from Hennessey Hometown Critics.
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Drowning in the Poole...

Do not, I emphasize, DO NOT watch Henry Poole Is Here if you are even mildly depressed. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. I saw the previews and thought it would be humorous, and I was so wrong. Henry (Luke Wilson) is unrelentingly, depressingly morose, and for good reason. He has had a sad and miserable life and is now dying young with neither past nor future to cling to in his dark night. He has lost faith.

Enter a bad stucco job on the house he has just bought in which to die. There's a water stain indelibly etched into the back of his house and his neighbor, Esperenza (Adriana Barraza), is convinced it is the face of Christ. Add a lovely and enticing newly divorced mom (Radha Mitchell) and her troubled child (Morgan Lily) and you have the formula for a feel-good miracle play.


This is not a feel-good flick. It is the story of a man at the end of his rope who has no where to turn and no way to look but up. It might have been meant to be inspiring, but it just left me crushed. All the situations are too true to life, and in life, we know what Henry knows, miracles seldom happen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now Let Me Get This Straight...

I haven't had much time for watching movies this year. Working several grants and dealing with the excitement and adjustments to construction at the library has left my home time distracted and, I'll confess, I've had to keep my head pretty squarely in The Real to cope. So, when my good friend Po asked if I had seen The Straight Story from Disney studios and I said no and he proceeded to tell me the plot, I wasn't interested in watching but was intrigued enough to at least think about reviewing it for purchase. Resolute fellow that he is, he bought it and insisted that I watch.

I gave up on my disabled VCR at home and curled up one evening at the library, complete with Sonic supper and Oreo, the library cat, and this gentle, sweet movie.


That is the word that most comes to mind as I think on it. Sweet. Richard Farnsworth (Misery, The Natural) brings Alvin Straight to life as the stubbornly determined man who rides a 1966 John Deere lawnmower 260 miles from his small town in Iowa to the home of his brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton, The Green Mile). The brothers, who had been very close in their childhood, have become estranged over hasty words and, as the movie opens, have not spoken in 10 years. Alvin is in poor health but refuses a walker and gets around with two canes instead. He learns that Lyle has had a stroke and realizes that time is short for both of them. He determines to make amends. Because of failing eyesight, he is unable to drive but he refuses to be deterred and builds a trailer to haul behind his riding mower and begins the journey.

The film is an account of his odyssey, the people he meets along the way, and the changes he brings in the lives of those he meets. Interestingly enough, most of the characterizations are wooden and amateurish, but the film still works on a powerful level. Farnsworth and Sissy Spacek bring depth to their recreation of the real life Alvin Straight and daughter Rose, and it is the gentility of this resolute man who has learned well the lessons of his life that carries the film.

It took some doing to get to see it, but I'm oh so glad I did. Look for it on DVD at the library.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Australia--Super-Size That?

I know it's not fashionable to enjoy neo-epics, but I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the BIG picture--love the scenery, thrill to the sweep of a thundering herd no matter what it is: horses, cattle, buffalo, people... I chose to watch Baz Luhrmann's Australia because it looked BIG, and I wasn't disappointed. Sweeping vistas of the Outback, breathtaking starry skies, BIG explosions, cattle, horses, romance, war, adventure, danger, good and evil--it has it all. Maybe that's a problem. Maybe Luhrmann tried to do too much.

Stiff English noblewoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels to the Outback, determined to sell the family's cattle operation. Upon arrival, she discovers her husband has been murdered, ostensibly by the mystical aborigine, King George (David Gulpilil). The estate, Faraway Downs, is surrounded by the land of cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown) who wants to buy Lady Sarah out. The only way she can save the land is by getting her cattle to Darwin and selling them to the British seeking meat to feed English soldiers fighting WWII. A fiercely independent cattle drover called...Drover (Hugh Jackman) helps her reach her goal--and then provides a different kind of goal for the proper English woman.

It's only the beginning of a long, rambling story full of plots and sub-plots. It's Out of Africa set in Australia--the live-in wanderer lover, the cattle drive, the natives and independent woman. It's Empire of the Sun with the war, the evacuation, the separation of mother from son --though Lady Sarah is only a surrogate mom to the half-caste child Nullah (Brandon Walters). It's Saturday Morning Westerns, with the conflict between the innocent, city-girl ranch owner pitted against the evil cattle baron and his minions. It's Broken Arrow with the Anglo guy who goes native and marries the native girl who dies and then fights for her people. There's elements of Casablanca and a nod to the Wizard of Oz. It's so predictable, but that's part of its charm. It's comfortably familiar.

It's a John Ford epic shot through a modern filter. I was struck by the many scenes that seemed sniped from Ford's films and reset in the Outback. It was a soulful homage. I loved it.

But, is it good? Well...

It's fast-food Epic. All the necessary elements are there and it is satisfying, but even Super-Sized, it's still Epic Lite.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Becoming Jane, Inside and Out

Did Jane Austen have an ill-fated love affair with Tom Lefroy, later Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench in Ireland? Her letters suggest that she certainly had a romp with him one summer, but there is no definitive evidence that the two had anything more than a teasing friendship.

Nonetheless, Becoming Jane takes us into a romantic story that could have been penned by Miss Austen, had she lived in 2009 rather than 1809. In 1809, her heroine had to get her man; in 2009, we know such things do not always come to pass.

The chemistry between Anne Hathaway as Jane and James McAvoy as Tom is true to the character of the letters, lively, teasing, and increasingly spirited. Both portray rebellious intelligence sparking fire and feeding from one another until the inevitablility of their relationship becomes obvious, even to them.

The lovers are always the last to know.

In the end, it is their goodness and propriety that keep them apart--two rebellious hearts with moral souls. This is what elevates the movie from lush costume flick to thoughtful film. It's no Casablanca, but it still reminds us that no matter how much you may want a thing, sometimes even when it is offered, you can't always have what you want.