The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
Girls' night out (boys can watch, too!):
Tears, fears, & cheers!
"A Mighty Heart"
Angelina Jolie is one of the most recognizable women in the world. She is also one of the highest paid actors in the world. Known not that long ago for choosing rebellious roles ("Girl Interrupted"/"Gia") and avant-guarde personal behavior, her current persona is far more noble - United Nations goodwill ambassador, attentive mother to a international brood, concerned citizen.
In "A Mighty Heart," Jolie tackles the role of Mariane Pearl, the wife of kidnapped Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl and the turbulent days that followed his abduction. Surrounded by a cast of relative unknowns, one might think "A Mighty Heart" would be a "star" vehicle for Jolie.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As Mariane, Jolie is the focal point of the drama, but there's no "star" trip here. Attention constantly switches focus between the various diplomatic and journalist representatives. Even Pearl's parents are brought into the very long distant loop from the United States to Pakistan.
By filming with a hand-held camera for extensive portions of the film, director Michael Winterbottom drew the audience into the intimacy of the situation. Flashback sequences aided the characters development as well as the relationship between Daniel and his five-months pregnant wife.
It's no easy task to involve an audience telling a story where the ending is known before the opening credits roll. Winterbottom is more than up to the task. But Jolie, at the top of her game, makes "A Mighty Heart" worth seeing.
"Away from Her"
The fear of aging is not a new phenomenon. Women (and men), long before Botox and plastic surgery and long before the discovery of the "Fountain of Youth" by Ponce de Leon in 1513, have longed to maintain their youth.
Why? Who knows? Even if your looks appear youthful, your mind certainly will let you down eventually. "Away from Her" deals with the reality of the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
More than a study of the disease and its gradual progression, "Away from Her" tells the story of a 44-year relationship between Fiona (Julie Christie), the faithful wife of Grant (Gordon Pinsent). But it's not a love story, per se. It's more of "relationship" story.
Marrying at a young age, the couple goes through the growing pains of any relationship and when finally confronted with commitment to an extended care facility, the realities of those years - both good and bad - become apparent.
"Away from Her" is a grown-up movie. It stars grown-ups, Christie and Pinsent are joined by yet another veteran actress, Olympia Dukakis. Outside of a young nursing aide, the other supporting players are, shall we say, "up there."
A name to remember is Sarah Polley. An actress (previously reviewed in "The Secret Life of Words"), she adapted this script from an Alice Munro short story and directed "Away from Her" with such depth of understanding, it leaves me to wonder if at 28 she hasn't found the elusive secret to aging. Polley brings depth and wisdom to "Away from Her" far beyond her years.
"Dreamgirls" is a fun time. The movies lately have offered slim pickin's when it comes to just buying a big ole bag of popcorn and settling in. Then along comes a slick Jamie Foxx as Curtis Taylor, a car salesman turned entrepreneur, Beyoncé as Diana, oops, I mean, Deena, a so-so singer with looks to die for, Eddie Murphy, as James Early, a marginal headliner, and Jennifer Hudson, as Effie, a singer extraordinaire who gets dumped for Beyoncé's sleeker stage image. These folks star among a strong cast of supporting players and, under the deft directing hand of Bill Condon, bring this 1981 stage musical to the big screen, even if the "big" screen is in your living room.
What's most interesting about "Dreamgirls" is that the musical score is adequate at best. Oh, sure, the Dreams do all the right moves to toe-tapping ditties, but with the exception of one or two songs, the tunes don't come close to any number of Motown Greatest Hit collections.
Like the Broadway production, "Dreamgirls" peaks at the halfway point. Hudson is so strong as Effie, her voice so engaging that the anticipation of "I'm Telling You, I'm Not Going" is only exceeded by the audience enthusiasm at the end of the song.
The costumes by Sharen Davis are stunning. As the third "Dream," Anika Noni Rose almost gets lost in the Effie/Deena battle for center stage, but like the other supporting cast members, she holds her own.
"Dreamgirls" may not be in anyone's all time list of musicals, but Hudson's show stopper (can you have one of those in a movie?) certainly makes a list for top 10 musical moments. In the words of Curtis Taylor, "If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'."
Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. A novelist and playwright, she has published in numerous magazines and newspapers in addition to teaching fiction. She is the Arts & Entertainment critic for the international entertainment Web site NotesFromHollywood.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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