Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Five Movies

Bella

U.S. Catholics, at least, will recall a lot of fuss about this film when it came out in 2007. It was adopted and pushed by pro-life groups who may have done it some harm: they pushed it so hard, buying up whole showings of it etc., that they gave people the impression that it was just a message film. And of course some mainstream reviewers disliked it because of that pro-life slant, and probably many of them reacted to the pro-life push; outside of neo-Nazis and the like, there is no political group more hated by the liberal media.

Anyway, I certainly ended up with the impression that it was a well-intentioned message movie and probably not very good. My wife saw it and said it was pretty good, though she didn’t seem overly enthusiastic. But either she wanted to see it again or she wanted me to see it, because she put it on our Netflix list.

My verdict: it’s not a great movie, but it’s worth seeing. Yes, it’s sentimental, but it’s not shallow, which is the same way I would describe It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s not in that class, but as with Wonderful Life, you could say it’s a heartwarming feel-good movie that yet is willing to look into the abyss.

Here are two reviews from Catholic critics: Barb Nicolosi, who didn’t like it, and Steven Greydanus, who did. I think Nicolosi is overly harsh, by the way.

Becoming Jane & The Jane Austen Book Club

I was not especially enthusiastic about either of these, but I mention them because serious Jane Austen fans might find them interesting. But then they probably didn’t need me to tell them about them. The first is a heavily fictionalized biography of Austen herself. It’s not bad, but I doubt it has that much to do with Jane Austen, either. Anne Hathaway is a good actress but she’s the wrong person to play Jane Austen. I question whether any American actress under 40 can play any role without at least occasionally falling into Huffy American Girl mannerisms. I’ve talked to at least one serious JA fan who couldn’t stand it.

The other one is about a group of women who form a Jane Austen reading group and read all her novels, which are juxtaposed with their personal (i.e. romantic) lives. I don’t think it’s anything special, but I was not bored, as I had feared I might be. Many or most women would probably find it very enjoyable, and it manages not to completely twist Austen into contemporary positions that would have appalled and repulsed her. In fact Austen rescues one of the women from a tempting disaster.

A Simple Plan

One winter day in rural Minnesota, three men chase a dog into the woods and find a wrecked airplane, its dead pilot, and a large amount of money. They decide to keep the money. Things go downhill. This is as compelling a portrait of the power of evil as I’ve ever seen. You should see it, but I should warn you that it’s painful to watch, not because of the violence, of which there is some, but because of the tension. It’s brilliant, but it’s not a movie to relax with.

The Road Home

Apparently one can assume that Zhang Yimou’s name on a film means that it is, if nothing else, visually beautiful. This is a very simple story, told with heartbreaking beauty (visually and dramatically). Really, I’m getting slightly teary-eyed just thinking about it. A young man is called home to his rural Chinese village upon the sudden death of his father. He tells the story of his parents’ courtship in a series of flashbacks. That’s it. I could probably watch it a dozen times.

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