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Friday, October 17, 2008

MOVIE REVIEWS - Cinema Chatter

Joan Garverick LOVES watching movies. Each month she reviews Movies on the wide screen in theaters, Documentaries and Video Picks so you can enjoy movies at home. Support your local Video Store - please - and shop locally for your home viewing!

The Duchess is a delightful frothy confection of a film about a long past era. The story is about Georgiana Spencer who was Princess Dianna’s 18th century relative. The parallels of their lives are fascinating. Both were thrust into an arranged marriage while in their teens. Georgiana (played by Keira Knightley) was married to the Duke of Devonshire (played by Ralph Fiennes) at the age of seventeen. Both husbands had a roving eye and enjoyed a dalliance outside of the marriage. Finally both women were icons of the fashion world. In Georgiana’s case it was mile- high hair festooned with feathers that won’t fit through a doorway.

This slice of history is told with perfect pitch by cinematographer Gyula Pados, who with the help of costume designer Michael O’Connor and set decorator Rebecca Alleway, have created an environment so authentic you are pulled into the film as if you are witnessing the story in person. The strict social code of behavior and mandated political attitudes are on display and fascinatingly told with an eye towards the lack of power or influence of women back then. Mr. Fiennes performance as the Duke is nuanced, multi-layered and quietly powerful. Director Saul Dibb has assembled all the factors in the making of a great film and presented it to us with such an ease and fluidity that you are barely aware of the complexity of knowledge being presented.

Body of Lies: If you’re not into costume dramas and want your entertainment with suspense, spy technology and thrills then Body of Lies is for you. The story takes place all over the Middle East. C.I.A. agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) starts the movie in Iraq, goes to Jordan, Turkey, and Syria spinning his web of lies and intrigue. He speaks the local language and can pass as a native.

Meanwhile back in the USA, his boss Ed Hoffman (played by Russell Crowe) is trying to manage his employee via cell phone and computer. Some critics have called the plot ridiculous and convoluted, but I think our presence in the Middle East is a jumble of religion, terrorism and high tech methods.

The film moves at a quick clip showing you many sides of middle eastern life from crowded markets to homes that are an oasis of serenity hidden behind tall walls. Tourist Hotels and glitzy night clubs are against the image of the outskirts of town where garbage is dumped and burned. This locale seems to be a favorite meeting place of covert types.

As usual, Director Ridley Scott has pulled a great performance from Mr. Crowe and Mr. Di Caprio, but the real performance to watch is Mark Strong who plays Hani Salaam, the head of Jordanian intelligence. Mr. Strong doesn’t say as much with his words as he does with his eyes, and the camera is right in his face picking up all the complexities he emits. A nail biter of a story with lots to keep you engaged.

My video pick this month is one of the best and most thought-provoking movies so far this year. The Visitor tells the story of a lonely widower college professor, Walter Vale, who is sleep-walking through his life. The loss of his wife, and the boredom factor with his teaching, has made him listless and adrift. He has an apartment in New York City that he never stays in.

When he comes to New York for a conference and goes to his apartment for the night, he is surprised to find foreign strangers living in his apartment. Initially he tells them to leave immediately, then when it occurs to him that they have nowhere to go, and secondly that he can help them with very little effort on his part, he wavers and welcomes them.

This sets up a story of a wonderful relationship between these 3 people who are thrown together by happenstance and impact each others lives in a powerful and meaningful way. This story is a view of our post 9/11 world that many Americans don’t realize even exists. It is also a window into the plight of immigrants in our country.

Written and Directed by Thomas McCarthy this is a story without the usual clichés and pat answers about life in America. An unassuming movie that packs a powerful punch, all the elements of a great indie film.

Goodbye Paul
Finally I would like to salute the amazing career or Paul Newman. He made 53 movies in 52 years. He never played the same role twice and always played them with a raw honesty that jumped off the screen and into your heart, head or throat depending on the subject matter. I have been visiting his movies these past few days and it is astonishing to realize how powerful he was, all while making it look effortless. He chose roles that made you think either about his role or the world around it.

A Paul Newman movie was a mandate for a movie date and he never disappointed. Sometimes it took me years to figure out the finer points of the plot, but that is the bonus you always get from Mr. Newman’s work, never a one-dimensional character, always a complicated man with surprises. Beside being a brilliant actor, he was verrrry easy on the eyes, and when he flashed that stellar smile all women and some men would just melt. I know I always did. I think you can pick out any of his films and they will tell you a good story in a different fashion than the usual and that is always a joy to behold. Lucky for us he is on film and we can always have happy viewing with any of his films that we all love so much…now and always.

Happy Viewing!