Laura Linney didn't win an Oscar for The Savages, which opens at long last locally on Friday, Feb. 29, losing out to French actress Marion Cotillard, but Philip Seymour Hoffman won a Best Actor Spirit Award for the film, and the film took Best Screenplay for Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) at the Spirits as well. With two of the best actors working in film today, I don't see how The Savages can be anything but fine. Hoffman is college prof Jon Savage who discovers from his somewhat estranged sister Wendy (Linney) that their father Lenny (Philip Bosco) is losing it and decisions need to be made. It turns out that Lenny may never have been much of a Dad. It's a Charlie pick of the week. Rated R for some sexuality and language. 123 m. At the Minor.
The only other opening locally is sports comedy Semi-Pro, a film that should make all those people out there who loved Fool's Gold happy. Starring Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson, the film, set in the '70s, is about a basketball team owner (Ferrell) who wants to merge his ABA team with the NBA. Since a few of my brain cells have recently reawakened, I may have to see the film to kill them off again. Or, this may be a weekend to curl up with a DVD, and I have recommendations for you (see below). Rated R for language and some sexual content. 100 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
Special note: Two films that never played locally were released on DVD on February 19: Ang Lee's *Lust, Caution (rated NC-17) and **M*argot at the Wedding, featuring Nicole Kidman, Jack Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Either should be worth a rental.
VANTAGE POINT: Vantage Point represents the peak of what commercial Hollywood filmmaking seems to aspire to these days, although the current nominees for Best Film would seem to belie that assertion.
The film, directed by Pete Travis in his feature debut, is a slick recounting, from eight different points of view, of a terrorist attack in Salamanca, Spain, during a gathering of world leaders including the U.S. president (William Hurt). Telling the same story from varied points-of-view is not new, the most famous example probably being Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon.
But in Rashomon,which tells the story of a possible rape from the points of view of the victim, the alleged attacker and several witnesses, the different versions do not agree and the story is dependent upon the psychology of the narrator and the extent of his/her involvement in the incident. In Vantage Point, by contrast, the eight versions agree exactly on the sequence and the facts of the attack; each narrator simply adds a bit more information. The device, then, seems more like a gimmick that tries to sex up the standard action thriller, which is what this film is.
Nonetheless, within those parameters, Vantage Point is tightly edited, nicely paced and often suspenseful, and the viewer need not ask for more. The viewer sees the shooting of the American president first from the perspective of the TV news channel coverage headed by Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), then Secret Service Agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), an American tourist with a video camera (Forest Whitaker), a Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega) and four people who seem to be involved with the group who launched the attack.
To add some additional tension the story throws in a little girl and her mother who become unintentionally entangled in the plot. Vantage Point is standard thriller fare, competently executed. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language. 100 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
CHARLIE BARTLETT: The high school film has a long and occasionally distinguished history that includes Rebel Without a Cause, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mean Girls, Heathers and many others. Typically, the films consists of an in-group at a high school with varying circles radiating out from that core to the misfits, rebels and geeks, the latter groups normally being the focus as they are the more intriguing characters.
Charlie Bartlett is an interesting example of the genre. The story focuses on Charlie (Anton Yelchin, in his first chance at the lead), a rich kid who can't seem to fit in. We see him initially as he's being expelled from the latest prep school in the company of his ever-supportive and forgiving mother Marilyn (Hope Davis in a nice, mostly comic turn).
Enrolled in a (horrors) public school, he is immediately dunked in the toilet by school bully Murphey (an effective Tyler Hilton, who played Elvis Presley in Walk the Line). But Charlie conceives the idea that by faking mental illness symptoms, he can get lots of prescription drugs that he can dispense to his fellow students for a good profit.
Making Murphey his partner, he quickly becomes the most popular kid in school, which brings him to the attention of alcoholic principal Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.) and his daughter Susan (Kat Dennings, The 40 Year Old Virgin; Big Momma's House 2), who runs the drama club.
But while the film does deal with the usual high school angst, it has deeper concerns involving parent/child relationships and, to some degree, what constitutes mental health. Both Susan and Charlie, for different reasons, are being raised by a single parent, and the way they work out their relationship with each other and their parents is the film's real interest. Charlie Bartlett is hardly a masterpiece but it is nicely effective in its own way. Rated R for language, drug content and brief nudity. 107 m. At the Broadway.
THE ORPHANAGE: The Orphanage is a stylish, often chilling, effective ghost story. As such, it has all the expected elements: a large, old house occupied by only three people, strange sounds that occur mysteriously, doors that open and close by themselves, a lot of darkly lit scenes, tight focus and invisible playmates seen only by the child in the house.
But Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona marshals these elements into a particularly satisfying example of the genre. The film's main focus is Laura (an excellent Belén Rueda, The Sea Inside) who, as the film opens, brings her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) back to the house where she once lived as an orphan. She intends to use the house to take care of special-needs children as she was once taken care of. But when her son starts playing with an unseen companion and subsequently disappears, the film takes a typical dark turn.
The film, however, uses the ghost story elements to delve into specific social concerns, including motherhood and abandonment along with belief systems. When Laura employs psychic Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin, who began her film career in 1952 as an uncredited little girl in Limelight) in an attempt to find Simón, she scares her husband who worries about her sanity. But Laura is resolute in her beliefs and the film's resolution is wrenching but completely appropriate.
The film is somewhat reminiscent of The Others and Dark Water, but much better than either. As it turns out in this very good film, Neverland isn't always just for children. In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated R for some disturbing content. 110 m. At the Minor.
27 DRESSES.Jane, an idealistic, romantic and selfless woman, re-examines her life when her little sister usurps her love interest. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At The Movies.
ATONEMENT.Dramatic British tale, set in 1935, of deceit and love, of wealth and privilege, based on novel by Ian McEwan. Rated R. 123 m. At the Broadway.
BUCKET LIST.A corporate billionaire and a working class mechanic, who have developed a strong bond while sharing a hospital room, embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At the Broadway.
DEFINITELY, MAYBE.A Manhattan father, in the midst of a divorce, grapples with his 10-year-old daughter's inquisition about his love life before marriage. Rated PG-13. 122 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY.Jean-Dominique Bauby, an editor-in-chief of French Elle, overcomes debilitating stroke to achieve a life without boundaries. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway.
EYE.A concert violinist, blind since childhood, undergoes surgery to restore her sight, and then starts to become haunted by disturbing images. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At The Movies.
FOOL'S GOLD.Modern-day treasure hunter alienates his family by pursuing gold lost at sea, but regains allies upon discovery of a vital clue to treasure's locale. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
HANNAH MONTANA AND MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR.Miley Cyrus, the teen singing sensation, performs as a solo artist and as her TV character, Hannah Montana. Rated G. 100 m. At Fortuna.
JUMPER.A man with the ability to teleport himself anywhere in time finds himself in a war that has been raging for thousands of years. Rated PG-13. 88 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
JUNO.An intelligent teen, Juno, deals with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy by seeking out the perfect set of parents to adopt her unborn child. Rated PG-13. 96 m. At the Broadway and The Minor.
MEET THE SPARTANS.Spoof movie features the heroic Leonidas, armed with nothing but leather underwear and a cape, commanding a Spartan force. Rated PG-13. 84 m. At The Movies.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.Coen Brothers' adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy touches on themes as varied as the Bible and this morning's headlines. Rated R. 123 m. At The Movies.
RAMBO.Rambo returns to the big screen in grisly, violent tale written, directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone. Rated R. 93 m. At The Movies.
SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.The Grace family moves into the Spiderwick estate, the home of a dead ancestor, and discovers the evil creatures that already reside there. Rated PG. 96 m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
STEP UP TO THE STREETS.Rebellious dancer at elite arts school forms a crew of classmates to compete in Baltimore's underground dance battle, The Streets. Rated PG-13. 98 m. At Mill Creek and The Movies.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD.Epic set in Cali's turn of the century oil boom chronicles a down-and-out silver miner's rise into a self-made oil tycoon. Rated R. 158 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.
U2 3D.Concert film of rock band as they trek through Latin American countries on the "Vertigo" tour. Rated G. 85 m. At Fortuna.
WITLESS PROTECTION.Larry the Cable Guy plays a small town sheriff who grapples with FBI agents, quack doctors and Chicago high society. Rated PG-13. 98 m. At the Broadway.