For quite a number of years we have skipped the usual Thanksgiving fanfare in favor of spending the days at the movies -- and sometimes in the evening taking in the touring show of the Broadway Theatre Guild in downtown Grand Rapids. The nice thing is that the plays are usually not sold out on Thanksgiving, so we can go on the spur of the moment, and sometimes they discount the tickets or upgrade the seats to fill in the Orchestra section. The musical this year is Annie, which neither of us have ever seen, but before we got a chance to decide if we'd really go, a college friend of mine who got lost from our address book for a number of years and we haven't seen together in about twenty years, got in touch and was traveling through on Thursday night. Very cool to have a friend you can jump into long conversations for hours with after such a gap of time -- though it is truly disturbing that his little girl is now 17-1/2. Not possible. (grin)
We had planned on an all U.K. cinema Thursday. Alas, given the constraint of getting back in the evening, we couldn't get a schedule to work at Celebration North. And we were going there instead of Studio 28 in order to grab a lovely pasta dinner at Chicago Dog and Pizza, as we did last year. Unfortunately, we'd find out later that they closed the end of September, so we ended up going home after two movies and having some lovely leftovers just before Jeff arrived. On the other hand, Friday Mrs. Dr. Phil roasted a duck and vegetables, which came out most excellent, and baked a pumpkin pie. It was one of the best "Thanksgiving" meals we've had -- and that's saying a lot because we have most excellent Thanksgivings. (double-wide-grin)
Deja Vu [PG-13]
Denzel Washington is one of our most favorite actors, so we weren't going to miss out on seeing a Denzel police drama, which sounded like it had a sci-fi twist. Actually, when we saw the very first trailer for Deja Vu a while ago, I was thinking that maybe it was a sequel to 1995's sci-fi thriller Virtuosity but that turned out to be not true. Instead we take a tight police drama about an apparent terrorist attack against a ferryboat loaded with U.S. Navy sailors and give it a nice twist.
Denzel plays an ATF agent. Very good, very competent -- though he just never seems to show a damned badge to any police officer at a major crime scene, even when challenged. I don't think you get to wander around the place on the basis of just saying you're with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms... but perhaps they thought they were being clever in order to avoid a plot problem later in the movie. Yeah..., no. Not buyin' it -- it's just an old-fashioned continuity error.
What Deja Vu really is, is a time travel movie but one with a twist -- that's the sci-fi element. The time travel in this movie has limitations, something like the circa 2000 TV series Seven Days or Orson Scott Card's 1996 novel Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus. The voodoo physics invoked is believable and I like the astrophysicist who is accidentally involved in the project. Less likely is the way that Denzel figures out something hinkey is going on. Nope, shouldn't happen, not with that particular piece of equipment. Though frankly, the operation's cover story on how it works doesn't hold up anyway, so they had to do something. (grin) Good to get the "truth" out into the open.
I hadn't realized from the trailers that this was set in New Orleans -- I saw ferryboat and Navy sailors and figured Seattle or San Francisco. New Orleans, though, can use the exposure and income from a major movie. And part of the devastated 9th Ward is actually used effectively, so nicely done.
Val Kilmer shows up as another agency suit. He's pulling a John Travolta here, looking heavier than he did in his "manly" stud roles like Top Gun. Wasn't he just out there fighting in a swords & sandals epic just a few years ago? (Philip II of Macedonia, in Oliver Stone's Alexander) Don't know if it's makeup or growing up. (grin) In the long run it doesn't matter, this is Denzel's show and he is phenomenal. Hate to say "as usual" but the man doesn't seem to give a bad performance.
Some bits are predictable, but I have to say that the SFnal visualizations of this movie are utterly first-rate and convincing to me. In particular, it's fun to see the imaging system beef up the image after a point-of-view move as time goes on.
Please note -- though it scores a PG-13 rating, there is a harrowing car chase scene which on a big screen is like having your worst driving nightmare happening in real time. Yikes! Highly effective, but Rule Number 1 is do not try to drive with obstructed vision.
The Queen [PG-13]
November has clearly been Helen Mirren Month. The last two Sundays, PBS has run "the last" series of Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect 7. Jane has always been something of a tortured soul, but watching her alcoholism assert itself to the point where she is in physical danger, well, it's painful to watch. Now in the same month we see Helen Mirren portray Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during the time of Diana's death... what a dramatic range of acting. Bravo.
The relationship between the Royal Family and Diana were complicated for many years. Her tabloid exploits -- or rather those things displayed by the ravenous tabloid press, whether public or private -- are splashed all over and the source of derision within the Royal Household. Yet despite the divorce, HRH Prince Charles is shown to be both truly broken up about his ex-wife's death and increasingly concerned about his mother's attitude. The crux of the movie is the Queen's insistence that Diana's death is a private affair. She is backed up by her mother the Queen Mum and stuffy Prince Philip. The protocol people go along with this at first, but soon some in their ranks begin to second guess that assessment. Gradually the reality of the situation seeps into the Queen's consciousness and the Royals publicly acknowledge the public's involvement in Diana's life and death. Just as with the actual fatal accident, the movie does not dwell on the funeral ceremonies themselves. Though it involves a terrible death and strong feelings, this is not a violent movie. Just as well.
Some might try to criticize this movie as not being about the Queen so much as Prime Minister Tony Blair's early days in office. That's not fair. As portrayed here, their professional lives become quite entangled and despite being a new Labour P.M., Blair seemed genuinely concerned that Her Majesty didn't seem to be getting it. But I did have a hard time trying to suppress thinking about Hugh Grant's P.M. performance in Love, Actually as I saw Tony and company moving into 10 Downing Street.
A real surprise was James Cromwell, Farmer Hoggett from Babe, playing the Queen's consort Prince Philip. A real stuffed shirt whose answer to everything is to go out hunting. A not unrealistic portrayal, as I understand it.
I have no idea what the Queen herself might think of this movie, but really, her legacy is well and truly, even lovingly portrayed in the capable talents of Helen Mirren.
Casino Royale [PG-13]
Saturday found us at the Holland 7 to catch up with Bond, James Bond. In the 70s and 80s the 007 franchise got more and more glitz -- unreal expectations. The last couple of Bond movies have tried to clean up their act, but Casino Royale is a total resurrection of the franchise. And if you are keeping score, Casino Royale was the first of the Ian Fleming books of James Bond, but the 1967 movie Casino Royale with David Niven and Peter Sellers was an implausible spoof.
Everyone wants to know how this new Bond guy is. This is a restart for the series and they do it quite well. Never fear, Daniel Craig is a good Bond and we'll see him again. As far as the restart goes, this is written as a new 007 on his first mission. I wish they'd come out and explicitly say that there have been other people given the 007 designation -- I'd even rather that they come out and say that the name James Bond itself is assigned, so we don't really know who this new guy is. Because that bit of reinvention would give the past forty years of Bonds the continuity which has been sorely lacking.
For those of you who knock how often Bond changes, I should point out that his CIA buddy Felix I swear has had more casting (and race) changes than Bond himself. Unless all CIA agents are named Felix and I was just never clued into the joke. I like the new Felix, though always had a soft spot for Jack Lord. (grin)
Terrific opening chase scene with Sebastien Foucan, the originator of free running and parkour, through and up and down a construction site is breathtaking. This Bond is much more athletic than the old, tricky fossil that Roger Moore had become, for example. (grin)
The story itself is not nearly as Dire and End Of The World as we have come to expect from Bond movies and endlessly parodied by Austin Powers and others. The card game is no longer baccarat, an old European casino game which no one ever understood from watching the old Bond movies. Bookshelf '95 tells me that the aim in baccarat is to get two or three cards totaling the closest to nine. Never knew that and I watched Sean Connery suavely play his way through baccarat so many times... Ah well, they changed to Texas No Limit Hold 'Em, a cash game where you can up to some point re-buy your way back into the game. Of course you know where that leads.
Dame Judy Dench is still the redoubtable M and as crusty as ever. (swoon) It's up to her to nurture this new Bond and make sure he learns his lessons well if he's ever going to be any damned used to her -- and Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Q makes no appearance in this one, but that's almost just as well. The gadget laden car is there when James needs it and if it doesn't display the more over-the-top features of its predecessors, it still is incredibly useful. I've seen at least one blog review wondering why such a state of the art car doesn't seem to have air bags...
Any way you cut it, this is a decent action movie. Sure, there are problems you can highlight, but this isn't The Great Film of 2006, merely one of the more entertaining. And that, my friends, pays the bills.
The Constant Gardener [R] (DVD)
Saturday evening we curled up with our latest NETFLIX disc to watch The Constant Gardener, which we'd missed in the theatres. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in a very compelling performance, filmed heavily in the actual Kenyan locations of John le Carre's novel.
Like The English Patient, TCG is filled with stark raw wild Africa. Though Hotel Rwanda deals with history, TCG does address a real problem with the way corporations view and use Africa. But in a way, TCG is more like The Pelican Brief, though with a few more teeth.
It is interesting that the gardening of our "hero" is not dwelled upon, though it is often in the scenes. Nicely done.
And you probably should break out the scorecards and pay attention, because we are constantly changing times and locales. I'm not breaking any secrets to point out that Rachel Weisz's Tessa is killed early in the movie, so since she has a major part to play, there are a lot of flashbacks. And some wishful thinking. Too bad our "hero" can't link up with Denzel and Val and the technology from Deja Vu. Instead, he has to deal with the likes of Bill Nighy, who isn't playing an amusing buffoon this time round.
I'm too into my creature comforts of this decadent American culture to imagine traveling to such areas of Africa in my lifetime, but I can appreciate the scope and despair portrayed in a wonderful movie like The Constant Gardener.
The Usual Disclaimer
Dr. Phil, what good are reviews that like every movie? Well, I don't like every movie. But to tell you the truth, my budget and time for moviegoing is limited enough I try to make sure it's worthwhile. Much more fun to watch good movies that sit through turkeys. Turkey is for the holidays.
So that was our weekend entertainment, more or less. Hope y'all had a splendid Thanksgiving, for those of you celebrating that American holiday.