Fiction vs. fact? Noted historian David Thelen says, “The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.” That seems to be what Robert Redford is trying to do with his latest directorial effort, “The Conspirator.”
The movie opens with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the simultaneous failed murderous attempts on several other high-ranking officials.
It quickly moves to the discovery and demise of James Wilkes Booth after an extended search and the apprehension of the remaining perpetrators. A reluctant attorney and Union veteran of the Civil War, Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned to defend the surviving traitors as well as the boardinghouse owner, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who allegedly knew what the men were plotting on her property.
Once the trial begins the outcome is almost certain except for the decision whether Mary should remain in prison for life or be hanged with the other would-be assassins. Up until this moment of the film, “The Conspirator” lacks emotional drive and, for that matter, interest. But surely the decision to execute the first woman in the United States would/should be the climax of this dramatic tale.
Alas, the movie plays like a dry, albeit accurate, history book. “The Conspirator” flatlines at the climax, demonstrating that even the most dramatic event can be told without inducing emotions.
Redford’s track record as a director is impressive, beginning with “Ordinary People” (1980), “A River Runs Through It” (1992) and “Quiz Show” (1994). Maybe a fictional approach would relieve the burden of truth (as history reads) and provide a better vehicle for involving the audience in the future.
The Department of Agriculture estimated in 1996 that recovering just 5 percent of the food that is wasted could feed 4 million people a day; recovering 25 percent would feed 20 million people. Today we recover less than 2.5 percent.
Please don’t turn off “Dive! Living off America’s Waste” in the first 10 minutes. At first look, the words “dumpster diving” conjure up a homeless person eating a tossed pizza crust or half-eaten hoagie. Nothing could be further from the truth about this documentary.
Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert is neither homeless nor hungry. With a small cadre of friends, he prowls the back streets of Los Angeles searching for perfectly good food that our favorite supermarkets throw away.
For example, if there’s one bruised avocado in a package of four, they all get tossed. If shrink-wrapped steaks are close to their “sell by” date (not past it), they’re placed in a large plastic bag and tossed.
Seifert tells his story well. With a style similar to the highly successful documentarian Michael Moore, the young man petitions major stores guilty of sending perfectly good, edible food to city dumps. Trader Joe’s becomes his primary focus and though he respectfully requests answers to their wasteful policies, he is rebuffed repeatedly.
But Trader Joe’s is only one food chain. Other grocery stores, restaurants and even individuals need to shoulder responsibility for the following facts:
Every year in America we throw away 96 billion pounds of food. One half of all food prepared in the U.S. and Europe never gets eaten.
The statistics regarding the quantity of food and the alternatives for usage that are available other than trash bins are startling. “Dive! Living off America’s Waste” offers food for thought and conversation.
Every once in a while it’s fun to watch a good, old-fashioned melodrama and “A Letter to Three Wives” fits the bill. Writer/director Joseph P. Mankiewicz had a way with women — at least on the screen. Shortly after “… Three Wives,” he had great success with Bette Davis in “All About Eve” and Ava Gardner in “The Barefoot Contessa.”
Addie Ross is the femme fatale of the small town who captures the hearts of other women’s husbands. Her letter arrives addressed to three women stating that she is “leaving town that night with one of their husbands” and the mystery begins.
The three diverse women (actors Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell) have agreed to chaperone a school picnic allowing ample time for reflection on their respective marriages and the opportunity for one of their husbands to fly the coop.
Deborah (Crain) is a farm girl who married well above her station. Her insecurity kicks into gear when her husband says he might not be back that night for the club dance.
Rita (Sothern) is the breadwinner of the house on the fast career path in the world of radio, leaving her teacher/husband (Kirk Douglas) idealistically and intellectually at sea.
Lora Mae (Darnell) was raised on the wrong side of the tracks and wrangled a rich husband, who after a few years of marriage, brings little more to the relationship than a feisty sparring partner.
The pacing of the dialogue is swift and the supporting cast memorable, particularly a young Thelma Ritter, who never failed to steal a scene.
“A Le tter to Three Wives” would be a strong candidate for a remake if people only took the time to write letters. It’s doubtful — “A Tweet to Three Wives” — would have the same impact.
Rebecca Redshaw is an author and playwright who worked for 25 years in the film industry in Los Angeles.
Copies of her book, “SOFA CINEMA: An Easy Guide to DVDs,” may be purchased at the Sequim Gazette.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grading this week’s DVDs: the ABC’s
Mon, Mar 19, 2012
Politics, political figures and spies
Tue, Mar 6, 2012
Tue, Feb 14, 2012
And now, reality
Mon, Jan 30, 2012
Looking back on the year that was (Part 1 of 2)
Wed, Dec 7, 2011
Film buffs should revisit ‘Northwest’
Wed, Nov 2, 2011
Conspiracy theories played out on film
Tue, Oct 18, 2011
Mix-ups, marriage and horse management
Mon, Oct 3, 2011
Going ‘Grease,’ locally and on DVD
Tue, Sep 13, 2011
It’s All About the Music
Fri, Sep 9, 2011