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.
Richard Jenkins is one of those actors whom you instantly recognize but never are quite sure from where. In "The Visitor," he finally gets the chance to sink his teeth into a leading role. Walter is a economics professor in a rut. He's taught the same class for years, his wife has died and any zest he may have had for life is long gone. Forced to go into New York City to attend a conference, he finds a young couple living in his long-vacant apartment.
Terek, a drummer originally from Syria, and his girlfriend Zainab, from Africa, mistakenly "rented" the apartment and thus marks the beginning of an odd friendship between the effervescent immigrants and the stuffy professor. Unfortunately, the young couple is in the U.S. illegally and Terek's detention and uncertain future become the focus of Walter's life. The arrival of Terek's mother (played beautifully by Hiam Abbass) adds yet another level of intrigue to Walter's life.
All the characters in this Thomas McCarthy scripted and directed picture are developed fully, with and without dialogue. When Zainab rolls her eyes or when Terek smiles, their depth of emotion shines through. This is the second picture McCarthy has scripted and directed. Like "The Station Agent," he tells a story that opens up one's heart as well as one's mind.
"The Russia House"
If you've never been to Russia, "The Russia House" offers a unique opportunity. Filmed primarily on location in 1990, this spy/romance adaptation by Tom Stoppard of the John Le Carré novel immerses the viewer in an era long gone.
"Barley" Scott Blair (Sean Connery) is a book publisher who loves jazz, good Scotch and Russia. When he is contacted by Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer) to publish a friend's scientific book that potentially could shape the world order, the intrigue begins. The English equivalent of the Secret Service interrogates Scott Blair, followed closely by American Intelligence involvement, and the fun-loving book publisher reluctantly becomes the go-between of world powers.
Directed by Australian Fred Schepisi, the challenge to "The Russia House" is as much in understanding the various accents of spydom as following the intricate plot. The amazing musical score by Jerry Goldsmith featuring Branford Marsalis on soprano saxophone may actually trump all other aspects of this artistic venture.
"The Russia House" is rated R for reasons unknown unless one has to have a brain to watch a movie with this rating. It certainly helps. Whether it all makes sense or not, is really not relevant. Connery and Pfeiffer are believable in their May/December romance, plus, you can actually "see" Russia, even if it is on film.
"Vision of Light"
Attention all film buffs! (And even if you're not.) If you haven't stumbled onto "Visions of Light," add it to your Netflix list or check with your local DVD rental store. This is an entertaining compilation of film history as well as an informative documentary.
If you've ever wondered what a "DP" (director of photography) contributed to the film-making process, you'll get a history lesson in the most enjoyable fashion. Released in 1993, many of the greats from the past and current respected spokesmen (and women) are interviewed with accompanying examples of their work.
If you don't recognize the names of cinematographers like Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis, Michael Chapman, John Toland and Sven Nykvist, you'll surely recognize their films from the hundreds of clips woven throughout this documentary.
Technology changes quickly and lots has happened since 1993, but "Visions of Light" is a great place to start to see how film and the use of light have evolved since the beginning of the art form.
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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