As with other films, the background I have about this film was limited. South Africa — nada. Rugby — less than nada. But, it’s an Eastwood film and it has two of my favorite actors, so what the heck. And, boy, what a great film. Morgan Freeman does a spectular job of playing Mandela…he’s less about the looks of the Nobel Prize winner and more about the persona. So, at the start of the film in the early 1990s, Mandela gets out of jail and is elected to president. Apartheid is over. Mandela sees rugby and it’s “whites” only popularity as a way to try and help some of the white South Africans that he determined to unite his racially divided country. Matt Damon plays the rugby team captain who is in awe of the inspiring Mandela. Some believe (both black and white) that Mandela’s focus on rugby as a uniting tool is fooling. The blacks want to know why he is focusing this much attention on a white sport. And the whites don’t believe he is sincere and feel he has some sort of ulterior motive. South African politics are a big part of this film, as is rugby. Knowing next to nothing about those subjects did not hinder my enjoyment here. The story is intense and passionate enough sustain interest throughout. This film is about heart and friendship. It’s about determination and spirit. It’s a movie for all — not only political or sports junkies.

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An Education is a charming, intelligent film filled with excellent performances, especially from Carey Mulligan, who shines as the curious ingénue. Mulligan’s character, Jenny, is bookish school girl from suburban London who meets an older, sophisticated attractive man, David (played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard), who drives a sports car and who sweeps her off her feet. David even convinces her strict, driven parents with his “respectable” act. Jenny is hooked completely…so much so even school is no longer important. When David’s true colors surface, she seems left with nothing, but is she? Based on the memoir by Lynn Barber, An Education was adapted for the screen by British novelist and humorist Nick Hornby, who uses his satiric, dry wit to bring the characters, especially Jenny and her family, to life. Though this film is mostly a serious drama, Hornby’s knack for writing vibrant and vivid characters comes across in this touching and heartwarming story. Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Actress (Mulligan), Best Adapted Screenplay (Hornby) and Best Picture), this film is one of the best of the year.

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It’s hard to say I loved The Hurt Locker since it is such a disturbing and brutal movie. I will most likely never watch this film again. It’s not the kind of movie you want to re-live over and over again. And, it’s also not the type of film I would usually be drawn to. But, all I know is that I felt moved after seeing it…and that it affected me more than any film has in a long time. I think one of the reasons I was drawn to this film was that no matter what the subject, no matter how brutal or violent, good filmmaking is universal and stands out over all of the hype and other elements of the plot or story. The Hurt Locker is filmmaking at its finest. Never having been to war or even war-torn areas, this film is what I, as a naive civilian, imagine combat to be like. It is gritty and dismal and bleak and, at times, boring. There are men quarreling and having everyday personality issues like you and I do in the workplace. There are anger issues and missing family. There is death. Unlike some war films where the action and personalities of the soldiers and even the violence seems contrived, this film just seemed, to me at least, authentic. Revolving around soldiers in a bomb disposal unit in Iraq, the main character here is reckless and careless. But, he’s good at what he does so others around him are able to mostly excuse his free and easy behavior, especially because they do not want to do what he does. He’s the one who puts on the protective bomb gear and gets up close and personal with bombs. He might be a rebel, but in his dangerous job, rebellion is more of an asset at times than a liability. Like I said, I have no military experience so this feeling of authenticity is not based on anything specific…it’s just what I felt as I was watching the film—that this what be what it is really like over there. Then, on top of the intensity and drama of the film, The Hurt Locker also morphs into a thriller. As nail-biting (probably even more so) as any thriller made in Hollywood today, this war drama will not let up…even after the credits start to roll. With so many trite, predictable films being made today (some even about the war in Iraq), The Hurt Locker stands out among not only other war dramas, but among all other films.
The Hurt Locker: directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie. The Niles Public Library owns copies of this title on DVD.

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George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a paid “hatchet” man whose job is to fire people for corporate executives who don’t have the guts to do it themselves. Touted as a “transition specialist”, he spends 322 days a year flying from one city to the next while living out of a one-room rental at a place that looks like the Hampton Inn.

His goal: To achieve membership in the 1,000,000 mile club and receive the airlines club card that identifies him as only the 7th man in the world to reach this milestone.

Bingham loves his work and he truly believes he is a performing a positive service. This, however, is not an upbeat movie. It is a timely and very poignant look at getting downsized in the worst job market in decades. Director Jason Reitman has chosen to cast real people who have been recently fired for the roles of the employees that Bingham meets.

Bingham has no relationships, even with his family, and no commitments. He finds this very satisfying. So too, does the female “road warrior” Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) he meets in a hotel bar, naturally.

His boss, played by Justin Bateman, brings in a new whiz kid Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who has found a way to cut expenses by firing people through videoconferencing. Kendrick is energetic, smart and likable. Bingham takes her on the road to show the hotshot how he does it, and then to attempt the changeover. Clooney is at his best in these scenes. He is smooth and warm and engaging.

We follow Bingham to Wisconsin to attend his sister’s wedding who he hasn’t seen in years. There we get another glimpse of the character’s bravado while really seeing that he is just a lonely guy.

A late scene with Alex is, thankfully, not your “Harry Met Sally” happy ending. It is also unexpected and it is in this scene that you witness the great actor Clooney has become.

Kendrick and Farmiga are good additions to the cast and this is Clooney’s best role. Academy Award nominations for sure for the movie and possibly Clooney.

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JANUARY

Mon., Jan. 4
Early registration opens for Niles District
cardholders who bring their completed
10-punch film card. 
&
WATCH TO WIN contest begins

Mon., Jan.11
Registration opens for all Niles District cardholders


Mon., Jan. 25
Registration opens for all NON-Niles District cardholders

Tues., Jan. 26, 2pm
Rebecca, Not Rated, 130 min

FEBRUARY

Mon., Feb. 8
PICK THE WINNERS contest begins

Tues., Feb. 9, 2pm
The Lost Weekend, Not Rated, 101 min


Wed., Feb. 17, 7:30pm
Road to the Oscars® with Reid Schultz:
2009 in Film! (R)

MARCH

Tues., Mar. 2, 2pm & 6pm
My Fair Lady, Rated G, 170 min — SINGALONG


Sun., Mar. 7, 7:00pm
Oscar® Night Party! (R)

(R) Registration required

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December

*Sat., Dec. 5, 2pm—Angels and Demons, PG-13, 138 min
*Thurs., Dec. 17, 2pm—Four Christmases, PG-13, 88 min
*Sat., Dec.19, 2pm—Josh Groban in Concert, NR, 60 min

January

*Sat., Jan. 2, 2pm—My Sister’s Keeper, PG-13, 109 min
*Mon., Jan. 4—WATCH TO WIN OSCAR CONTEST begins —
see the AV Desk for details.
*Sat., Jan.16, 2pm—Gypsy Caravan: When the Road Bends, NR, 60m.
*Thurs., Jan. 21, 2pm—Julie and Julia, PG-13, 123 min
*Tues., Jan. 26, 2pm—Rebecca, NR, 130 min
*Thurs., Jan. 28, 2pm—Classical Composers in Hollywood

February

*Sat., Feb. 6, 2pm—The Proposal, PG-13, 108 min
*Mon., Feb. 8—PICK THE WINNERS OSCAR CONTEST begins —
see the AV Desk for details.
*Tues., Feb. 9, 2pm—The Lost Weekend, NR, 101 min
*Thurs., Feb. 11, 2pm—Amélie, R, 122 min
(in French with English subtitles)
*Sat., Feb. 13, 2pm—Patsy Cline: Sweet Dreams Still, NR, 60 min
*Wed., Feb. 17, 7:30pm—Road to the Oscars® w/Reid Schultz:
2009 in Film!
*Thurs., Feb. 18, 2pm—My Life in Ruins, PG-13, 95 min

March

*Tues., Mar. 2, 2pm & 6pm—My Fair Lady, G, 170 min — SINGALONG

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Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a former violent cowboy who turns over a new leaf. Now a father and a widower, he finds out whether he still has that violent streak. Eastwood and a friend (Morgan Freeman) decide to collect a bounty in a corrupt town, run by a detestable sheriff (Gene Hackman). Called a “psychological” Western, this film won Eastwood his first Oscar for Best Director, in addition to snagging Best Picture and a Supporting Actor Oscar for Hackman.

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When I saw Monster or The Queen, I felt like I had seen movies where the actors (in these cases, Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren respectively) embodied the persona of a real-life person. In La Vie en Rose Marion Cotillard takes it one step forward…she embodies the persona and the SOUL of the Edith Piaf. When I was watching this, I just became immersed with Piaf and this movie. I was in a trance…mesmerized in the performance. I had seen Cotillard in A Good Year, a romantic comedy in which she played the love interest to Russell Crowe. She was a striking, tall, stunningly beautiful woman with close-to-perfect features and almost an ethereal quality. In La Vie en Rose, she is truly Piaf…hunched over, small, course, and beautiful only the eyes of a few select people. What is beautiful, mostly, about Piaf, is her voice. Watching Cotillard, though, makes this short, awkward woman a striking person without an overabundance of physical beauty. Without adding any physical attributes to her, Cotillard brings out the inner beauty of Piaf…in both the depth of the fabulous performance and with the sparkle always shining through Piaf’s eye whenever Cotillard is shown. The movie, itself, is a good deal too long and would be quite tedious if I were not memorized with the performance. I’m sure it could have benefited with some serious time in the editing room…as long as no scenes featuring Piaf were cut out. She’s way too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

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By far, Harrison Ford’s finest performance…here as a Philadelphia cop who loses his partner in a shooting where the only witness is a little Amish boy. With his mother at a train station, the boy is in the bathroom at the same time the cop is shot…peering through the stall door, getting a good look at the shooter. Knowing the boy is in considerable danger, Ford’s detective tries hiding the boy and his mother in Philadelphia…but when that doesn’t work, he is forced to take them back home to Amish Country and stay with them for protection (and because he gets shot himself). Of course, this leads to some issues…mostly having to do with the mother’s father-in-law who has more than a few suspicious about this rough-and-ready city cop. Though the mother is recently widowed, the problem with Ford’s presence on the farm is not so much that he’s a man…but that he’s “English,” meaning not Amish. Everyone is on top of their game here…especially Ford who starts off as a smart, tough cop and has to somehow amend his characteristics to fit in with the Amish.

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The only way Dustin Hoffman can get work as an actor is to become a woman, which he does to get a role on a soap opera. At first, it is only temporary, but after his character improves the show greatly, they sign him on for a longer stint. When he falls for co-star Jessica Lange (who won a supporting Oscar for her role as a lonely single-mother and actress), he needs to stop the charade…but can he? Directed by Sidney Pollack, who has a small role in the film, as well as a young Bill Murray, who steals his scenes with his dry, deadpan humor.

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