by Bill Hawk



Lions Gate, 2006, Color, 110 mins.- Lions Gate DVD



Julie Christie: "I think people are too demanding. People want to be in love every single day. What a liability."


Christie and hubby Gordon Pinsent are a smart, funny, loving pair, living out their golden years in a cozy old house in the pristine wintry landscape of Ontario. But when Christie starts doing things like putting the frying pan away in the freezer, it becomes obvious that her mind is starting to go, and the pair is soon learning more than they ever wanted to know about Alzheimer's disease. Christie faces the prospect of winding up in "A home" with fortitude, and despite Pinsent's reservations, the pair wind up being separated for the first time. As Christie becomes attached to fellow patient and sort-of old flame Michael Murphy, Pinsent leans on head nurse Kristen Thomson for support, and details of Pinsent and Christie's less-than-perfect life together come out. But Pinsent is as devoted as he can be, and he even reaches out to Murphy's wife Olympia Dukakis for help- not that they or anyone else can manage a genuinely happy ending to the whole situation, but there can at least be a note of grace in its resolution.

Actress Sarah Polley puts on the writer/director hat with this effort, and does a respectable job of it, employing a fractured timeline which mimics the effects of the disease that drives the story. The paradoxical nature of Christie's condition, which leaves her less aware of the problem as it worsens, makes things even harder for Pinsent- he winds up as a solitary, and lonely, keeper of the flame. The film doesn't skimp on pathos, but it never descends into the sort of sentimentality that could easily overwhelm a subject like this, thanks to Polley's realistic approach. And as you might expect, she gets great performances from her cast, particularly leads Christie and Pinsent. They give us a small portrait of an everyday tragedy, with characterizations that ring true- skip it if you're in the mood for something cheerful, but if you're on the lookout for a melancholy little drama this is a good choice. Disc extras include audio commentary by Christie and deleted scenes.

Miramax, 2006, Color, 115 mins.- Miramax DVD



Richard Gere: "Forget it? This is like a Torah, sent down from God, to make us part of history!"

When you're in the middle of one of the most audacious literary hoaxes ever, it's easy to get caught up in your own mythologizing. Gere, as notorious author Clifford Irving, is desperate to sell a book before his house is repossessed, and he comes up with a primo scam on the spur of the moment- a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. The mysterious billionaire is still alive at the beginning of the Seventies, a reclusive figure whom Gere figures will never show up in public to disprove the fabricated book. So along with research assistant Alfred Molina, Gere steeps himself in Hughes lore, and literally gives voice to his own version of Hughes- which is good enough to fool pretty much everybody. But the high-stakes game gets rough, straining Gere's relationships with Molina and with wife Marcia Gay Harden. And when big money and dirty politics become part of the story, Gere's tap dance between fact and fiction starts missing the beat- will it lead him all the way to the bank, or to a prison cell?

The fact that this film is partly based on Irving's self-aggrandizing book about the scam that he perpetrated is just the beginning of its entertaining mix of truth and nonsense. Thanks to director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter William Wheeler, the story's not hard to follow, but it's hard to be sure about the veracity of it- not that it matters, because the machinations of Gere and his co-conspirators are fun to watch. There are plenty of roadblocks on the way to fame and fortune for this bunch, and watching them react in a crisis taps into that ol' viewer complicity- however flawed the characters are and however criminal their actions become, you can't help rooting for them. Molina has the more sympathetic role, providing comedy and pathos as he gets in over his head, but it is Gere who really shines, showing us a flawed but oddly charming guy whose ability to think on his feet is both his best and worst quality. When his house of cards comes crashing down, the hoodwinked folks in the media have only themselves to blame, because on some level they all wanted it to be for real. The satirical elements are hardly subtle, but they really spice up this tale of a scam artist who almost pulled off a big one. Disc extras include audio commentaries, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

Paramount Vantage, 2007, Color, 92 mins.- Paramount DVD




Regina King: "Peggy, how are you ever gonna find a boyfriend if you keep shackin' up with dogs?"

Former high diver Branson has been in an extended funk after an accident that derailed his life plans, and now he's getting itchy as he nears the big three-oh. He decides to get a dog, ditch his antidepressants, and quit his adult swim class teaching gig- which may not be such a good idea, seeing as how it provides pretty much the only human interaction that he gets. Of course, some of the folks in his class have their share of problems too, in addition to their embarrassing lack of drowning-avoidance skills. High school teacher Paget Brewster has a hubby who's stepping out on her with another teacher at the same school, causing friction with the administration and leading her into thinking her own extramarital thoughts when she meets younger guy Michael Mosley. Brewster bonds with the younger Jess Weixler, who's got a dual career track going- casino card dealing and stripping. Weixler's brother Avi Selton and his pal Ricky Ullman are budding filmmakers who try to fulfill a class assignment by interviewing people about Weixler, which annoys her to no end. As the aquatic training continues, lives will intertwine, decisions will be made, somebody will get trigger-happy with a can of mace, and a dog will resist becoming housebroken- but everyone will make it to a climactic "Big bad summer pool party."

This film from freshman feature director Ishai Setton is your typical indie item- a simple character-driven narrative with some engaging performances, done quickly and inexpensively by a close-knit crew, which went on to win some film festival awards and get a video release. The filmmakers do a good job of utilizing the resources available to them, and the movie avoids the aura of cheapness that sometimes plagues low-budget efforts. More importantly, the script by writer Daniel Schechter, while treading a familiar path, has enough good character moments and humorous twists to hold your attention. The performances fit right into the quirky goings-on, with Brewster's spacey sarcasm, Mosley's oddball cockiness, Weixler's slightly beaten-down decency and Ullman's socially maladroit antics being standouts. Overall, it's not strikingly fresh material, but if you're looking for some indie action as an antidote to the usual overblown Hollywood stuff it's worth a try. Disc extras include audio commentary and featurettes which display some more of the filmmakers' sense of humor.




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© Melt Magazine 2007