Bright Star

Biopics can be a tricky thing to pull off; too many times, the film can feel like it’s just telling you the highlights of a person’s life without actually giving you a real idea of who that person is (case in point: “Walk the Line”). That doesn’t mean films like that are irredeemably awful (again, “Walk the Line”), but it does mean they lack the spark that makes them great.

Well, along comes Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” a pseudo-biopic of John Keats (Ben Whishaw); I say pseudo because while it does feature Keats as the male lead, it’s really the story of his lady love, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

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What a delightful little find.

“Starman” is another early ’80s sci-fi flick, like “The Last Starfighter,” that isn’t a great movie, but it is a pretty good one.

The film opens in space; we of planet Earth have sent out a satellite loaded with language primers and an invitation for intelligent life to come visit us. Well, one traveling spaceman (Jeff Bridges) decides to take us up on the offer, but when he’s coming in for a landing, his ship is diverted; instead of landing in Arizona (poor guy), he finds himself in the backwoods of Wisconsin.

He stumbles upon one Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a woman who is still struggling to deal with the accidental death of her husband Scott (also Bridges). The Starman sifts through her house before stumbling upon some of Scott’s DNA and takes his form to better adapt to Earth-living.

But, he’s still got an appointment to keep, so he forces Jenny to give him a lift to Arizona, and from there, a basic sci-fi setup turns into an unlikely road trip movie, complete with some government baddies on their tail.

What happens next isn’t surprising, but what director John Carpenter manages to do is. Jenny is no dummy; she continually tries to escape, using direct and subtle means. Of course, she comes to realize that this alien, for all his other-ness and power, is just a baby who needs her to help him. Yes, it’s a love story, every story is a love story, but while it’s a rushed, it feels real.

Bridges received an Oscar nomination for his role, and he, like Allen, completely sells his character. When he first regenerates, he walks like a man using his muscles for the first time; he stumbles through language like a child does; he even uses his powers like a kid, over the top but effective. Just like Jenny, we grow to love this creature that wants nothing more than to see the best of our species.

Not bad for B-movie. It’s definitely worth checking out.

“Starman” (1984)

Directed by John Carpenter

Written by Bruce A. Evans, Raynold and Dean Riesner

Starring: Jeff Bridges (Starman)

Jenny (Karen Allen)

Inventing the Abbotts

It’s hard to know what to say about “Inventing the Abbotts.”

Pat O’Connor’s 1997 film begins with two families; the Abbotts are the wealthy ones, the family that earns the envy and desire of all the other people in town. Lloyd Abbott, the patriarch, came up from nothing to marry a wealthy woman, and they had three daughters: Alice (Joanna Going), Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) and Pam (Liv Tyler). Lloyd insists on showing them off to the neighbor kids who can’t ever be them or have them at every opportunity, and the girls, for one reason or another, just go along with it.

The Holts are the other family, two brothers and their widowed mother. Jacey (Billy Crudup) is the oldest and makes no secret of the fact that he is completely obsessed with getting into the Abbott family. It’s not love, but he pursues Eleanor with a fiery passion and then moves on when she is unavailable. Doug (Joaquin Phoenix) is a bit shy, a bit more withdrawn, and while he has feelings for Pam, he’s seen what an obsession with that family can do and stays away from her when he can. Most of the time, that fails.

There’s some more backstory, and some more interpersonal conflicts, but that’s the majority of the film. The boys pine, the girls remain aloof and all the while some great mystery hangs in the background, always out of reach.

It’s hard to give an opinion here because I liked the story, but I didn’t love it. I appreciated that the soapy route I predicted did not come to pass, but I had some issues with the lack of characterization of any of the female characters. I thought Phoenix overdid the sincere small-town boy at parts, and I felt that Tyler under-sold her poor-little-rich-girl act, but most the time they balanced each other out. I thought some third-act revelations were lame, but I thought others worked.

“Inventing the Abbotts” is a nice enough movie, with a good enough story, and a good enough cast, but it’s nothing notable.

“Inventing the Abbotts” (1997)

Directed by Pat O’Connor

Written by Ken Hixon

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Doug Holt)

Billy Crudup (Jacey Holt)

Liv Tyler (Pamela Abbott)

Let the Right One In

I’ve never really been a fan of horror films; they don’t scare me (never have, never will), and most of the time, they are kind of dumb. But I’m generally up for any flick that is willing to subvert its horror leanings and produces an emotionally relevant and satisfying story.

“Let the Right One In (2008),” directed by Tomas Alfredson, more than fulfills both requirements to get me to watch. The fact that it’s a good movie too… that’s just gravy.

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Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

One of the reasons I started watching, really intensely watching, movies was to see the world, so to speak. As a teenager living in rural Arizona, I didn’t have any way out of my desert hell, but I did have a satellite, and once I decided to look beyond Hollywood’s offerings, I got to see the world in my living room.

And so began my love affair with foreign films; in that vein, I watched “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” Zacharias Kunuck’s 2001 feature-film debut and the first film to be shot entirely in Inuit.

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My Summer of Love

Pawel Pawlikowski’s “My Summer of Love” opens with a girl alone in a room, drawing her love’s face on a wall; it’s a crude drawing, but for her, it’s a way to be with her love across the walls that separate them.

Back at the beginning of the story, we meet that girl, Mona (Nathalie Press), who has already given up on surprise and joy and just goes through the motions of life. Along comes Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a mysterious rich girl and “a bad influence” home for the summer after getting suspended from school. They bond over wine and petty vengeances, and they spend days on end together because, in their valley, there’s not much else to do.

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Japanese Story

Meet an original odd couple…

Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette) is a geologist and a co-director of a software company always on the lookout for new clients; she’s close with mother, works too much, but also enjoys the great outdoors of her native Australia and tennis (when she can find the time for it).

Hiromitsu Tachibana (Gotaro Tsunashima) is a Japanese businessman, a stranger in a strange land, who arrives in the Outback for a tour of the wonders of the desert and to feel, for the first time in his life, alone in the world.

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