Holiday Season Movies: Part 1
Hollywood's off to kind of a sluggish start this Holiday Movie Season, no? No matter... here are three excellent small movies I've enjoyed this past couple of weeks.
Starring the original cast of schoolboys that launched the show's theatrical run in London, The History Boys is terrific: a clever, funny, often surprising film filled with flawed but exceedingly likeable characters. Set in 1983, in northern England, in all-boys high school, the story revolves around a smart, amiable group of boys who spend their senior year preparing to apply to Oxford and Cambridge. To that end, two teachers with opposing styles—superbly played by Stephen Campbell Moore and Richard Griffiths—seek not only to help them get in, but to win their hearts, their minds and, in some cases, their bodies. Yes, the discussion (and acting out) of homosexual lust, puppy-love and experimentation is refreshingly out in open here, and to some degree even underplayed—it's definitely there, but no bigger a deal than heterosexual longings, or writing a paper on Stalin, or divining the meaning of history, or everything else these boys are going through. Note: I went without Bo and Co, but Debbie took her two daughters (ages 14 and ALMOST 13(!)) and all three of them loved it.
Documentary filmmaker Doug Block didn't plan on making a film about his parents, about their 54-year marriage, about their passion, their pain, their sex lives, their secrets. And, really, who does want to know stuff like that about one's parents? But when Doug's mom Minna (whom he was extremely close to) died suddenly, and then his dad Mike (with whom he was much less close) got married just three months later to a former secretary... well the story just started telling itself. The result is 51 Birch Street, a moving, honest, sometimes tense, ultimately redemptive portrait of love and relationships, and how it's never too late—even after a lifetime of emotional distance—to reach out to someone. I believe this is only playing at Cinema Village, and when I saw it on a late Sunday afternoon it was totally sold out.
Morgan Freeman looks like he's having the time of his professional life in the slight but hopelessly charming 10 Items or Less, the story of an unnamed famous actor (he starred in at least one blockbuster with Ashley Judd) who hasn't worked in four years and so is researching a potential role in an indie by scouting a hilariously depressing supermarket in a grim L.A. neighborhood. There Freeman meets a cute, fiesty checker adorably played by Paz Vega, and the two of them spend the next six hours or so... doing not too much. Freeman bags some groceries and goofs on the intercom. They go to Target to get a new shirt for Vega. They split a roast beef sandwich. They get the car washed. Vega goes on a job interview. They talk and laugh and tease each other and Freeman revels in chatting up strangers and there's no big "truth-learning" moment, just the pleasure of an unlikely connection, and an especially good day.