Film Roundup XVIII

The Exorcism of Emily Rose – 95%

Based on a true story, this film centers around a trial wherein a Catholic priest (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with negligent homicide after a girl (Jennifer Carpenter) dies during an exorcism that he performed. Although his lawyer (Laura Linney) is not a believer in God, for the sake of her client and their case she is forced to at least entertain the possibility of spiritual warfare. Meanwhile, the prosecutor, although he is religious, finds himself arguing that the priest has behaved recklessly in not seeking a medical explanation for the girl’s symptoms.

What I love about The Exorcism of Emily Rose is that it is genuinely a movie about the difference between faith and certainty and between belief and doubt. The filmmaker’s stated goal was to raise questions about the natural explanation in the minds of skeptic viewers while simultaneously inspiring doubts about the supernatural explanation in the minds of the religious viewers. The result is an overwhelming success with a number of fine performances. If nothing else, the film is an amazing demonstration of the significant role that a religious worldview plays, for both good and ill, in our interpretation of the events around us. It is a powerful message, graphically illustrated.

Jerry Maguire – 79%

Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a successful sports agent whose crisis of conscience gets him fired. He takes one athlete with him, a football player named Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), and decides to try and make it as an independent. Meanwhile, he finds himself developing feelings for single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger). The movie has a lot of heart, and probably comes across as a fantastic compromise for the average couple, combining sports with romantic comedy and passing out happy endings al around. I’m not exactly within the target range for any combination of the above, and the film has aged rapidly and poorly. Still, it does have its moments, and a great performance from Cuba Gooding Jr. (who won an Oscar for the role, and has barely been watchable since).

A Christmas Story – 83%

In this semi-nostalgic Christmas classic, narrator Ralphie Parker remembers the holiday season as it was when he was a child in a small Midwestern town in the 1940s. The one thing Ralphie wants for Christmas is an authentic Red Ryder BB gun, but his mother is sure he’ll shoot his eye out with it. As the all-important day approaches, Ralphie deals with bullies, an exceptionally whiny younger brother, and a father who has seasonal problems of his own.

Although A Christmas Story has attained cult status with a certain audience, many other don’t find it to their taste at all, either because they don’t get it or because they do. I tend to suspect the former. The movie maintains a hilarious tongue-in-cheek tone and stays surprisingly focused through an often bizarre sequence of zany episodes. It is loaded with Christmas spirit, after a fashion, but there is a sharp, satirical edge which holds all that might be saccharine at bay. Best of all, it seems to genuinely capture (and affectionately tease) something distinct about the holiday as it has been understood for the past few generations in middle America.

The Best Man – 87%

With the opposing party in chaos, two candidates for the American presidency vie for the all-important endorsement from the incumbent president in order to land their party’s nomination. William Russell (Henry Fonda) is a virtuous, idealistic intellectual, while Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson) is a pragmatic political kingpin who will do anything to win. As these very different men each try to do what they do best, secrets are revealed and the balance of power hangs by a thread leading up to an outcome that is impossible to guess. Released in 1964, this remains a definitive film about American politics. It is startling to watch the events of the convention play out and realize just how little has changed in the past 45 years. The Best Man is riveting viewing, though (of course) very talky, with great work by Henry Fonda (playing very much to type) and the rest of the cast.

The History Boys – 94%

Adapted by Alan Bennett from his stage play of the same name, The History Boys tracks a gifted class of British schoolboys as they prepare to apply for admission to Oxford and Cambridge. Assigned to help are two professors: Hector and Irwin. Irwin is young, just a few years older than his pupils, and completely focused on training the boys in all of the little tips and tricks to stand out on their exams and in their interviews. Hector, on the other hand, is nearing retirement age. He never went to Oxford or Cambridge and his lessons have little immediate applicability to the boys’ academic futures, but perhaps a great deal of significance to the meaningfulness of their lives.

This is an extremely fun and entertaining movie that I have enjoyed several times. It features the original cast from the stage version, but makes use of the freedom of cinema to expand its horizons. The greatest strength, of course, is the dialogue, which is by turns snappy and profound, but consistently hilarious, even when it borders on the tragic. I could sit through this movie again right now, or anytime.

~ by Jared on December 7, 2008.

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