The Barbarian Invasion

After two viewings of this marvelous 2003 film, I have only one regret: that I haven't seen the first film, shot in 1986, called "The Decline and Fall of the American Empire." This newer film reunites the superb cast after a 15-year gap, older, maybe wiser, certainly with a few more miles on them, as they gather to embrace, one final time, one of their own, who is terminal. Can you imagine anything more depressing?

"The Barbarian Invasions" almost makes my mouth water when these folks launch into some of their conversations, bawdy, intellectual, erudite, wistful, and affectionate. Their views on philosophy, sex, economics, history and politics are skillfully articulated. From their college days on, this group has embraced every "ism" in the book except capitalism, and they fondly share a collective memory of all their foibles.

The dying man's successful, workaholic son goes to amazing lengths to ease his father's final days and his efforts are, finally, appreciated; although I loved it when the junkie lobbed his cell phone into the campfire! This script is original, heartwarming, humorous, insightful and brilliant, while the cast is peerless! You wouldn't know any of them unless you see lots of foreign films...sorry.

This is a French-Canadian film that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, so it should be available for rental.

Yes, my dears...this is a RAVE!


Notes on a Scandal

That Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") is quite a Dame!

In this one she plays a not-very-thinly disguised lesbian who develops a crush on a new art teacher at their school. The teacher, played by (Australian!) Cate Blanchett ("Bandits"
and "Elizabeth"), appears to be a free spirit, which lends itself to immediate misunderstandings on the part of rest of the faculty, as they interpret her behavior as "flirty" or "too informal."

Blanchett is married to an older man, played by Bill Nighy ("Blow Dry" and "Love, Actually"). They have two children, a daughter, suffering in the throes of her first pangs of her teen years, and a son, who has Downs Syndrome. She and her husband are loving and involved parents, although their relationship is deliberately misread by Dench who of course, hopes it is miserable and doomed.

Dench's character observes Blanchett's character having some strictly illegal sex with one of her 15-year-old art students (shades of Mary Jo Loterno, huh? sp?), whereupon the elder teacher doesn't hesitate to blackmail the younger one.

Wonderful, fearless performances on everyone's part! This is the least "twitchy" performance I have ever seen from Nighy, although he is getting raves on Broadway right now (January, 2007).



Are you tough enough? This thing is a nerve-wracking workout! If you aren't worried about two tween-age boys in Afghanistan, you are trying to figure out if that deaf-mute Japanese girl is going to kill herself. The American woman may have been shot by mistake, but she is at death's door just the same. How drunk is that young Mexican man and why is he so edgy at the border? Will the passengers in the bus talk the driver into abandoning the American couple?

"Babel" is called that because it is a polyglot movie -- many tongues, and many wildly different stories -- but ultimately they all converge, even though you can't see how they might when you first step onto this runaway train!

Excellent performances:
  • Brad Pitt ("Troy" and "A River Runs Through It"),
  • Cate Blanchett ("Notes on a Scandal" and "Bandits"),
  • Koji Yakusho ("Shall We Dance?"),
  • and about ten more international actors, none of whom we recognize... more's the pity!
A lot of the dialog was in other tongues, so THOSE speeches I was able to "get" (captions), while much of the spoken English dialog went by the wayside, too much mumbling and too many ambient noises on the soundtrack. Aarghhh!

A couple of warnings...this is extra long, so don't drink too much liquid before you go in, because there is NO break in the unrelenting pace, in which you can make a pit stop! This movie is stressful, to say the least! This is like a high-octane, international version of "Crash." In other words, it is an excellent script, with many converging stories... some of them heartbreaking. The movie is loaded with people for whom you can cheer, and that's a GOOD thing. There aren't any out and out villains, only circumstances, misunderstandings, and lack of communication. (Hence the name...duh!) In my opinion though, the Japanese nightclub scene went on, far longer than necessary, because a throbbing techno music scene is boring to me, no matter where it is. (I had to include at least one gripe, didn't I?)

This might be easier to take on the small screen, but you know yourselves better than I. Not much "blowie uppie stuff," though...


Children of Men

Do you know what the word "Dystopian" means? It means, "don't rent this picture!" I realize it was nominated for an Academy Award for its "art direction" but that "art" consisted of mud, blood and crud! It is a post-apocalyptic view of Great Britain after the collapse of the world's governments. England is awash in "illegals," and its response is to round them up and put them out to sea. No children have been conceived for almost twenty years, consequently there is NO long-range planning anymore.

Clive Owen plays a former rebel, now a low-level functionary working for the government. He is tapped by his old gang to accompany a pregnant (gasp!) young woman to safety. Michael Caine is a happy, druggie hippie who offers assistance.

Rent or attend this movie at your own peril!
  • It is NOT heartwarming.
  • It is NOT pleasant to view.
  • It is NOT comprehensible.
  • It does NOT have closed captions.
  • It does NOT have one single ray of sunshine.
  • Don't be misled by the actors; Clive Owen and Michael Caine too, can mumble.
  • This is NOT "Blade Runner" for the new millennium.
  • This is a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
  • This is dirty, muddy, with lots of gunfire, vehicular chases and explosions.

It doesn't even have Lois Smith in it! (She's a sixty-ish actress who has played mother to Tom Cruise, David Arquette, Ben Affleck, etc., in many top-rated films in the past several years.)


The Grand Role

This is a tough movie to review because I don't want to give too much away. I can only hope it is available through your rental outlet. It was made in 2004.

Suffice it to say, it is about a Parisian couple who are very much in love. He is an actor auditioning for the role of "Shylock" in an American production of "Merchant of Venice" to be presented in Yiddish and directed by an acclaimed American director (played by Peter Coyote).

Be warned, a much-loved person becomes fatally ill and yet the film has an upbeat feel to it and ...get this... it's heartwarming!

It is beautifully acted by French actors, none of whom you probably would know by name, a couple you would recognize from character roles they have played in the past. I will be on the lookout for Stephane Freiss because he is gorgeous, is a wonderful actor and looks like he's related to Hugh Laurie.

Some reviews:
  • "A winning illustration of loving that O Henry himself would have approved."
  • "A delectable French treat! Funny, romantic and poignant all at the same time!"
  • "Engaging and undeniably moving!"
  • "Succeeds at the tricky balancing act of mixing comedy and pathos. Peter Coyote steals the picture!"
  • "A charming mixture of slapstick and sorrow. Great pleasure!"
  • "A crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy about love, friendship, role-playing and Jewish pride."