Friday, September 25, 2009

Movie Reviews: Two Recommendations

The Boys are Back

Based on a true story, this Australian film is a touching portrait of fatherhood. Clive Owen (Closer, Children of Men) plays Joe Warr, a busy sports writer who becomes a single father after his wife suddenly becomes ill and dies. With no time to grieve, Joe struggles to find a way to sort out rebuilding his life in unfamiliar territory. His focus is on bringing joy back to his six-year-old son (Nicholas McAnulty) -- so he utilizes a "just say yes" philosophy that leads to mixed humorous and dramatic results. Things get a whole lot more complicated when another son enters the picture -- a teenager (George MacKay) from a previous marriage, who Joe long-abandoned to start life anew with his second family.

Owen delivers a moving performance in a modern-day story of an unconventional family. You'll feel the love Joe has for his boys -- as all three bond in new ways. Director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars) has shot a beautiful film -- with his homeland of south Australia as a backdrop -- and strong turns by Owen and the boys in the forefront. Based on the acclaimed 2001 memoir by Simon Carr, The Boys Are Back In Town. [Rated PG-13; opens in limited release today, wider next month]

Grade: B+

Bright Star

Based on the last three years of the life of English poet John Keats, Bright Star is a must-see for fans of romantic period dramas. The film stars Ben Whishaw (I'm Not There, last year's Brideshead Revisited remake) as Keats -- and Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss) as his muse Fanny Brawne. It's no secret that Keats died young and penniless -- thinking he was a complete failure as a poet. Not until after his death would he be lauded as a key figure of the Romantic movement -- and a strong influence to others that followed. The film's point of view is not on Keats, but rather on the source for much of his writings -- his neighbor Brawne.

Brawne is an independent young woman -- far ahead of her time -- out-spoken and capable of earning an income as seamstress. Keats on the other hand has no income -- and therefore not a candidate to marry. The unlikely pair begin at odds, he thinking her a stylish minx, while she being unimpressed not only by his poetry but also by literature in general. But as we see in 1818, there isn't much to be entertained by. Try for a moment to think of a world without movies, tv, computers, iPods, etc. Sure we see glimpses of dance and music -- but the written word is what's most highly-regarded in the day. And what eventually leads them to a romance -- only to be tragically cut short by Keats' illness and ultimate death at the age of 25.

Much Oscar-buzz has deservedly surrounded Cornish, who excels in a complex role that showcases a full range of emotions -- from joyful, playful giddiness to deep heartache. But the accolades deserve to go further -- as the entire cast is excellent -- including Paul Schneider (TV's Parks and Recreation) as Keats’ meddling best friend, Charles Armitage Brown. Oscar winner Jane Campion (The Piano), who directs and also wrote the screenplay, captures the time period to near perfection as the costumes and settings bring you back to the early 1800s. It's a poetic story of how romance used to be -- but one that may seem a bit too slow and simplified for today's action-hungry audiences. [Rated PG-13; opens wide today]

Grade: B+

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