Paycheck surprised me. It is a good watch. It’s not tedious like Memento but more popular. It is classy sci-fi, testosterone thriller, blow ’em up, but asks questions about knowing the future, in particular Michael Jenning’s (Ben Afleck) past, present and future, the role of technology, and greed. It does go where other sci-fi films have gone before, but it is entertaining.

One problem is that there is much gun-shooting and killing and hardly any blood, so young viewers will need to be reminded of the consequences of violence… Mature teens and adults will find much to talk about though because they will hopefully understand the genre.

Cold Mountain

I was prepared not to like Cold Mountain because I did not care for the book. It didn’t engage me.

However, the film far exceeded my expectations. It’s got a haunting beauty, graphic battle scenes (not unlike other Civil War films we have seen), humor, great kindness and courage with much human weakness – and no cliche’s. Food and “meal” is a stong motif, among many others, as well as faith and religion, without being obvious.

There is so much to say. Rene Zellweger is amazing and provides the humor. She deserves a best supporting actress win on this. We may be almost at saturation point with Nicole, but she carries off her role as Ada (she has a “piano”, too) very well. Jude Law fits perfectly into his role as “Inman”. To the credit of cast and director, it is more an ensemble piece than a presentation vehicle for Nicole. Very well cast.

It’s moving and very much an anti-war film without being preachy.

Some aspects reminded me of The English Patient… but I got over that fast enough.

The only major gaffe is Nicole’s black pant suit that is so out of character for a period piece. And if someone tries to explain it away, I am not inclined to accept any explanation. You can try though …

Cold Mountain IS one of the good ones and I recommend it.

Calendar Girls

The Calendar Girls is based on the true story of a group of middle-aged ladies in Yorkshire, UK who create a nude calendar (not “naked”) to raise money for the leukemia ward and waiting room of the local hospital. The struggle with the difference between art and non-art (pornography); they struggle with celebrity. They struggle with their personal relationships – all with a sense of droll humor and a sense of loss and empathy for those who lose loved ones through leukemia.

What impressed me is that the Calendar Girls understand what they did and why, but when they are invited to be on the Tonight Show, Jay Leno just blows it by telling them to get more women to pose naked. That it shows how shallow the journalism that surrounds them is, as well as shows that seek to promote them but end up insulting them, is a revelation.

These ladies have dignity. In the final alaysis it is about empowerment. I would have wished it could have done a bit more to resolve the relationship between the Helen Mirren character and her husband and son…

Both Helen Mirren and Julie Christie are marvelous.

By the way, they pose nude but you don’t see anything (except in a couple of places, in passing, some breasts are evidenced.) Their beauty, as the flowers of Yorkshire, is best as they age.


Cheaper by the Dozen

If you saw the original, this version of Cheaper by the Dozen may not ring your chimes too much. It has some funny parts and it tries very hard. The eventual clash between the parents doesn’t seem authentic because it doesn’t take the time to develop the “family character” enough for us to care – or there are just too many to keep track of. Ashton Kutcher is very funny and his character works well as the true narcissist of the bunch. Steve Martin as a football coach? The time line of the mother’s book being accepted and published and the book tour planned was very far fetched.

A review in the LA Times this week said Bonnie Hunt was too perfect to play mom to 12 kids. But if you recall the original, the mother was a very classy lady. I like Bonnie Hunt and she gets in her Catholic identity: go wash the dishes, sweep the floor or say the rosary…

What I would have liked to have seen was more of the father’s efforts to nurture his children like the original. Alas, times have changed and economics and consumerism are big obstacles to family life.

The theater was almost full today and the crotch humor and the vomit got the biggest laughs from the kids (not too over the top.) It was enjoyable and it is pro-family, though from a Catholic perspective it has no problem with contraception (if you recall, the original had the Mrs. reject the efforts of the Margaret Sanger visitors.)

What worked was that you could imagine yourself in a family like this… at least I could since I come from a family of eight. And these kids got theri own rooms? Not so bad… Some funny out-takes at the end.

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, is a lovely story about a motherless young white girl, Lily, in South Carolina in the 1960’s. She thinks she is responsible for her mother’s death, her father is emotionally blank, mean and makes her kneel on dry grits for punishment. She finds a picture of the Black Madonna on a label that belonged to her mother. When she runs away because she has helped a black woman, Rosaleen, break out of jail, they end up mid-state, near Columbia. And by chance, she sees honey with a label that matches the one she has. She gets directions and they arrive at the house of August and her sisters – a safe haven.

This is a great novel on many levels: if you are Catholic, you will appreciate the role that Our Lady plays in the lives of these women who are just achieving citizen status in the U.S. If you are a student of religion and culture, this is a study of what people do with religion and how religion changes through generations when the institutional church is missing – how the soul can remain. This is not a book with an agenda. It’s a sweet novel (no pun intended) about living and believing when hope is scarse.


I lived in South Carolina for 2 1/2 years. Sounds real to me…


Have you ever seen a good movie made from a really poor script and conventional plot? Honey-from-the block is not a well-written movie, but I enjoyed every minute of it. (Think thoughts of Jennifer Lopez’ story growing up in the Bronx – even to the choice of Castle Hill Avenue for a dance studio … which is not even close to Hunt’s Point or the South Bronx!)

It’s Save the Last Dance, and a little Dirty Dancing rolled into one. Great moves by Jessica Alba and the kids she teaches at the Center in Hunt’s Point (South Bronx) as she strives to maintain her principles and dignity when she gets involved in the music video business. A little romance, cultural diversity and awesome dancing.

This is a nice film that addresses poverty, drugs, cast off children, working parents, family, friends, and community. Some parents won’t get the urban milieu or appreciate the dancing, but if they would give it a chance… A movie with lots of heart.

And only 90 minutes long!!!!

Something’s Gotta Give

Writer-Director Nancy Meyers has made a fun and very funny movie about the Ashton – Demi celebrity syndrome and its reverse in Something’s Gotta Give. There is a complexity of relationships (but nothing as poorly executed as Love Actually) to be explored and sometimes it’s laugh out loud. Yes, there are implied affairs and some skin (mostly Jack Nicholson’s unimpressive rear) but remember: the play’s the thing. Diane Keaton is Erica, a divorced writer of successful Broadway plays and Keanu Reeves the doctor who takes care of Harry (Jack) when he has a heart attack while trying to make out with Erica’s daughter played by Amanda Peet. Erica ends up taking care of Harry for a week.

It’s grown-up fare. However, it’s nice to see people grow and change in credible ways – and middle aged people as real live human beings in mainstream media. Harry’s life changes after the heart attack which is real, symptomatic and symbolic at the same time. (Towards the end, Harry does a “Schmidt” thing and goes on a journey where he learns as he brings “closure” to the hundred(s) of sexual – not loving – relationships he had with women for over a 40 year time span. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch but a sample of women now rejecting him.)

Something’s Gotta Give is a tiny bit too long, but worth it. Although the film starts off about the unconventional, guess how it ends? This isn’t edgy movie making, but sometimes you just want – need – a good laugh. (And Keanu isn’t too bad either.)

Here’s one more movie that does the Casablanca thing: “We’ll always have Paris”.

OK. That works.

Big Fish

This latest from Tim Burton is warm, off-beat and appealing. It’s themes are very Christian as are the images. Big Fish – remember the one that got away? A young man, Will, (Billy Crudup) goes home because his father (Albert Finney) is dying. They have not spoken for three years. The father is a very social person and has always related to people through fantastic stories. Will scorns his father and regrets every believing him.

The strongest feature of this film is its heart, the father-son relationship. But let us not stop there. Family, marriage, death, and very strong baptismal imagery are front and center – as are Burton-esque visual motifs that you’ll recognize from his other films.

It’s an odd piece, typical Burton parable. It will make you smile and maybe shed a tear or two.

Good on story-telling and metaphor.

Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a fine film and arguably Tom Cruise’s best acting so far. It takes place in 1876 when three US soliders go to Japan to turn the Japanese army “western.” And in some ways, this is like a Kurosawa film turned into a western and then woven together. It’s about culture clash, culture colonization through trade and economics. The most appealing thing about it is the integrity of the friendship between Cruise and the main Samurai warrior. Is this an allegory for today? Oh yes. It is violent, but not nearly as intense as it could be and it is contextualized. Nothing gratuitious. It is no where near Saving Private Ryan, for example. The film avoids cliche’ and has some moving moments in the film.

It could be argued that this training wrought World War II in the Pacific and that a film like this is inappropriate. This is a matter for dialogue certainly, yet it behooves us to remember that the Americans went to Japan in the first place and opened the door in 1853 (Adm. Perry with a trade agreement in hand.)

A nomination for Cruise? I’d vote yes. It’s very good. If you are a student of gloablization you won’t want to miss this.

The Missing

The Missing is a somber work by director Ron Howard – a western with ideas. Excellent work by Cate Blanchette and the girl who plays her youngest daughter, Dot. Tommy Lee is good, but how Howard got such performances from these two ladies is a wonder.

There is always something missing in this film, from the old woman’s teeth at the beginning, to the older daughter who is kidnapped, to the father who deserted Maggie (Blanchette) and returns for his own sake as well as a kind of redemption. Takes place in 1885 in New Mexico. Blanchette plays a healer who is Christian. The foe is a renegade Indian scout turned witch. He’s as scary as Blanchette’s Chrisitanity is cold and ambiguous (she sleeps with the hired hand when no one is looking.)

It is about Indians and white people and Mexicans – how the US calvary betrays the Indian scouts, they turn renegade and kidnap white girls to sell south of the border. One subtext is religion and culture. It would be, and might well to do, to parallel this film with current events.

This is a film worthy of Clint Eastwood, as theme, landscape and lighting. There is a lot of violence, but the people have souls.

Compare this to Open Range? The Missing is a real movie, with pain, ideas, drama. Open Range is an exercise in method dullness.

Both are too long, but with THE MISSING I didn’t look at my watch for 90 minutes. This is a compliment.