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Screenings: In the Valley of Elah, Dear Frankie, Dan in Real Life, In Treatment, John Adams

March 22nd, 2008 · No Comments

In the Valley of Elah
This film, Paul Haggis’ directorial follow-up to Crash, begins quietly and proceeds through its initial 30 to 45 minutes slowly, allowing the viewer to fully absorb the soul of the piece, which is Tommy Lee Jones’ willful and determined character of Hank Deerfield.  At this halfway point, the movie begins to shift from being a mystery with several dead ends toward the anti-war film whose sentiments clearly fueled its creation.  Haggis’ script works to expose the effects of the Iraq War on the young people sent to fight it, and it does so subtly, excepting the heavy-handed final flag-raising scene which has the feel of an editorial postscript from the screenwriter.  Worth the time for the performances of Jones and Susan Sarandon alone.

Dear Frankie
A young deaf Scottish boy writes letters to his “Da,” who has supposedly been away at sea for most of the child’s life.  The charade is perpetuated by the boy’s mother, who intercepts the letters and writes replies in the father’s hand.  When circumstances threaten to uncover the mother’s deception, she is forced to find someone to pretend to be the boy’s father for one day.  This movie is charming, despite its movie-of-the-week premise.  The settings and characters have a verité quality, and an understated simplicity.  And though the boy doesn’t physically speak throughout the film, we hear the voice in his head as he writes his feelings, observations and dreams in the letters to his father.  This was a device that was used to wonderful effect in one of my favorite films of last year, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and works beautifully here, as well.

Dan in Real Life
Steve Carell utters one of the most ridiculous lines in a movie ever in Dan in Real Life: “This corn is like an angel.”  Out of context, it’s even more ridiculous, but I laughed out loud at the moment in the film when he lets it rip.  This was another charming movie, with characters that seemed to genuinely care for one another.  Even two strangers, forced into a hot shower together – one fully clothed, one naked – seem to sympathize with each other’s plight (certainly she – the naked one – does, and as Juliette Binoche plays her, it is all in the face and eyes).  This film is a worthy companion to Juno, sharing smart dialogue, quirky characters, some dangerous emotional moments, a hopeful ending, and a distinctive soundtrack (filled, in this case, with songs and music by Norwegian popster Sondre Lerche).

In Treatment
The first 15 episodes of HBO’s new daily drama are available as a free download online.  I got them a week ago, and “watched” them while doing office work (they run about 22 minutes apiece).  The show takes place primarily in a therapist’s office, and focuses on his weekly sessions with four patients, plus his regular visit to his own therapist.  I was easily hooked, but have found out that the first 15 episodes only go through week 3, and HBO has just finished airing week 8.  So I am in a fix: do I pick up in real time at week 9, or try to track down the intervening weeks and watch them in sequence?  I haven’t been able to find weeks 4 through 8 anywhere online yet.  Meanwhile, my verdicts on Paul Weston’s (Gabriel Byrne’s) patients: Laura – terrifies me; Alex – annoys the shit out of me, but draws my sympathies, too; Sophie – a manipulative teenager, but she allows her motivations a great deal of transparency, therefore she fascinates me;
Jake and Amy – hard to care about two people who seem to feed off of conflict.  Gina, Paul’s therapist, is wonderful, doesn’t seem to be as rigidly adherent to the therapist code as Paul is, and is a fascinating character herself.  She’s played by Dianne Wiest.

John Adams
The first two episodes of this mini-series that aired last week were good, but are the constant tilted camera angles really necessary?  They are driving me nuts.  Maybe that is supposed to signify the topsy-turvy state of the late 18th-century world but, clearly, we could gather that from the narrative without the addition of sea-sickness.

Tags: film · Screenings

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