Try This One
You know the drill. Frank Connor has just been released from prison, and has nowhere to go. In the absence of other ideas, he drifts back into the neighborhood and friendships that landed him in jail in the first place. Before long, he’s being pressured into doing “one last job” to clear the “debt” he owes to the goon he “let down” by getting caught. What’s Frank gonna do? There are so few options that only one is really plausible… and we can see the train wreck coming some sixty or seventy minutes away. Still, Pappy executes the story with style and grace. You probably won’t get emotionally involved in Frank’s tale, but you probably will enjoy the slow-burn ride.
Think You’ve Had a Bad Day?
When Jake arises to his shared-apartment corporate-drone world on his birthday, he’s expecting great things. Why? Because his horoscope has told him to. I won’t spoil things for you by going into detail, but let’s just say that Jake does a less than stellar job of interpreting the Delphic oracle that horoscopes tend to be. And when things go spectacularly awry, Jake jets out of town on a mission to debunk astrology. Pro-astro reviewers have noted that 5 Star Day really isn’t about the ways in which the stars influence our lives, or about defending or attacking a particular system of belief. And they’re right. So if you’re looking for a good savage critique of astrology (and I’m not really sure why anyone would be) this isn’t your film.
What is the story of Nutcracker? Well, gosh. That’s kind of a hard question to answer for a ballet, unless you’ve “read the book.” Here, apparently, young Clara has some weird hangup about her eccentric inventor godfather, and the night before Christmas she lapses into a fevered dream. Her godfather, Herr Drosselmeier, crafts a magical toy-soldier nutcracker for her as a gift, and in the dream sequence it morphs into a handsome prince… with whom, it seems, Drosselmeier vies for Clara’s romantic intentions. Or maybe I’m reading that all wrong. I don’t know. But the voiceover narration is a sure sign that Ballard isn’t exactly comfortable that his presentation of the ballet is telling a coherent story, either.
Gentle and Loving
I’ve never forgotten this little gem of a gentle movie, which the unsung Jesse Birdsall carries admirably—and which, under the direction of Randal Kleiser (yes, that Randal Kleiser), features a supporting cast of highly memorable proportions: Lynn Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Sir John Gielgud, Jane Horrocks, Peter Cook. In a story that prefigures The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Birdsall stars as Gavin Lamb, a 30-year-old dresser of blue-hairs (and little-to-no-hairs) who still lives at home and is admittedly scared of talking to most people—women in particular. He’s anal-retentive in a non-fussy way, very focused on not making mistakes as he wanders his art-appreciative way through life.
This true story about one woman who misbehaved in a major way and took down a despicable boys-will-be-a-holes network of sex traffickers masquerading as U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia isn’t some anti-male screed put together by a bunch of activist misanthropists. Instead, it’s a proactively positive (if infuriatingly heartbreaking) story about the evils of sex-trafficking which enlists the help of other A-list stars like David Strathairn and Benedict Cumberbatch, while getting co-production help from a bunch of German men. But still, the lead story is: this is story about a strong woman, starring a strong woman, made by strong women. And it’s a strong film. Take my recommendation and see it.
Do Yourself a Favor: See It
Miss Representation royally pissed me off, and in the best possible way. Bear in mind that I’m the lone audience member who walked out on a packed commercial screening of Risky Business because I was so incensed at that film’s portrayal of women. From the first time I saw Joe Francis’ ridiculous Girls Gone Wild commercials on cable, I’ve lamented how the misguided women who buy into Francis’ fetish are traitors to their own gender. And no, Halle Berry’s sex scene in Monster’s Ball was not empowering; she merely sold her integrity for the sake of artistic “respect.”
Flawed But Memorable Classic
Most adults, of course, seem to have very little memory of what being a teenager is like; the normal result is a lack of sensitivity and understanding, much as we see with the parents of Neil and Todd in Dead Poets (played brilliantly by Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke). However, in his passion for flipping that insensitivity the opposite direction, John Keating (Williams) equally forgets the impressionability of youth—and with tragic unintended consequences. Keating is not the catalyst for the tragedy, of course; but he’s not entirely unaccountable, either.
Given that I picked up this review opportunity in a rather eleventh-hour fashion, I did not know was that Thurgood is essentially a filmed take on a tour-de-force one-man stage show written by George Stevens Jr. Rather than a standard biopic, we are here presented with the faux reminiscences of an aged Marshall as he “returns” to alma mater Howard University for a lecture to a “friendly audience.” As Marshall warms up to his topic—his personal involvement in turning the tide against American apartheid—he casts off his cracking voice, shuffling gait, and cane, rejuvenated by Fishburne’s energetic portrayal of a modern man of justifiably mythic proportions.
A “Manifesto to God”
The frustration in Corrine’s life culminates when she leaves a characteristically stilted “house church” meeting. Those in attendance talk to each other in muted catch-phrases and euphemistically-couched expressions of spiritual denial. Outside in the car, Corrine cries out to God in an honest fashion that should rend your soul—and when she asks God to reveal Himself to her, who should appear but her husband? He is so alienated from her at this point, and their love for each so dead, that all he can coldly suggest is that she no longer bother coming to the meetings since her “heart isn’t in it.” Oh, but her heart is so much in it! And that’s the problem in Higher Ground.
More Than More of the Same
In the Christian niche market, “more of the same” from directors and producers generally results in an audience (and pastoral) response that looks more like “Well, I think I’ll take a pass this time.” That’s because, for the most part, the product in question is substandard in one or more ways and has been marketed in a bait-and-switch fashion that packages cut-rate entertainment as the next great evangelistic tool. Think of the Left Behind series (now on the verge of being rebooted… whoo-hoo!), The Nativity Story, or even Rocky Balboa. Yup. There are only so many times you can sell the same pig. Well, Courageous bucks that trend entirely.
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