RAISING HELEN (A-2, PG-13): Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) is a carefree Manhattanite who works at a trendy modeling agency. Her sisters, Lindsay (Felicity Huffman) and Jenny (Joan Cusack), live in suburban New Jersey with their husbands and families.
After Lindsay and her husband, Paul (Sean O’Bryan), die in a car ac-cident, Helen learns that their will gives her custody of their children. Super-mom Jenny is crushed, believing that Helen is not qualified.
Helen moves to Queens with the children: teen Audrey (Hayden Panettiere), Henry (Spencer Breslin) and Sarah (Abigail Breslin). She registers them at St. Barbara’s Lutheran school, headed by Pastor Dan Parker (John Corbett).
Although Helen tries to manage her high-power career with her new parenting responsibilities, she is fired over an incident involving the children. She gets a job at a local used-car lot run by the eccentric Mickey Massey (Hector Elizondo). Meanwhile, Pastor Dan asks Helen on a date. (The plot reminded me of the 1963 film My Six Loves, starring Debbie Reynolds.)
Helen is a love story about a young woman who gives up her ambitions and dreams only to receive blessings in return. The name Helen means source of light, a torch or moon, and reminds us of hearth and home. Helen Harris’s source of light is her soul that is filled with the kind of generosity and love she didn’t know she had.
Helen almost gives up when teenager Audrey pushes the limits. With some help from others, Aunt Helen learns what it means to be a mother.
Directed by the comedy-romance meister Garry Marshall, Helen is funny and touching, but not sentimental. Nor does Marshall overplay the romance between Helen and Dan: The real love story is between her and the children.
Paris Hilton makes a cameo appearance carrying her puppy in her trademark frou-frou Pucci bag, and the contrast between superficiality and Helen’s new look on life is duly noted.
Themes to talk about include life, death, freedom and responsibility, adolescence and parenting. This film asks what it might mean to really “have it all.” Not an Oscar contender but the best movie this year so far; rated for thematic issues.
TROY (A-3, R): The independent kingdoms around the Aegean Sea 3,200 years ago are being unified into the nation of Greece by wars of aggression led by men like King Agamemnon (Brian Cox). Troy alone remains unconquerable. Achilles (Brad Pitt) is the penultimate hero who does the bidding of Agamemnon when he so chooses. This bigger-than-life soldier-hero seeks only eternal glory and remembrance.
The two princes of Troy, Paris (Orlando Bloom) and his older brother, Hector (Eric Bana), are ending a peaceful visit to the kingdom of Sparta when Paris declares his love for Queen Helen (Diane Kruger), wife of King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson).
Paris sneaks her aboard the ship as they depart. Hector wants to turn back, but gives in to his brother’s ill-fated lustful demands to bring Helen to Troy.
Menelaus wants his wife back so he creates an alliance with his brother Agamemnon, who calls for 1,000 ships to set sail in pursuit. The island kingdoms and Thessaly form an alliance, but each king has his own motives for going to war: love, greed, ambition, pride.
Achilles travels with the fleet but then refuses to wage war against the Trojans. The Greeks suffer a terrible defeat. Achilles’ sergeant, Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), goes into battle. Hector kills him, thinking he is Achilles. Achilles is filled with rage and kills Hector. Troy is about to fall and Achilles’ weakness is revealed.
Based on Homer’s ancient Greek poem The Iliad, Troy is ably directed by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm, Air Force One). The film suffers from an imbalance between unimaginative dialogue that defaults into clichés and some insightful statements about the gross futility and vanity of war.
As I watched this film, I couldn’t help thinking of current events, as well as the role that religion played in that ancient conflagration. As then, so now, religion is used to rationalize and justify war as a means to solve problems for every side involved.
Fighting for a place in immortality was why the Greeks went to war. Thoughtful viewers may ask: In the final analysis is it really any different today? What have we learned? Ambitious spectacle, grand and terrible epic; sexuality, partial nudity and battlefield violence.
THE NOTEBOOK (not yet rated, PG-13): Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) live in an assisted-living facility in South Carolina where he reads to her every day from his notebook. It’s a love story that begins in 1940 and tells about Noah (Ryan Gosling) and a 17-year-old girl named Allie (Rachel McAdams).
Noah works in a lumberyard. His greatest ambition is to buy an old plantation house on the river and rebuild it. Allie is a rich girl who has come from Charleston for the summer. They fall in love, but their union is doomed because of her parents.
Based on the best-seller by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook is directed by Nick Cassavetes. The mellow tale takes its time to unfold as it moves back and forth between past and present.
Ryan Gosling kind of grows on you and Rachel McAdams is a treat. James Garner and Gena Rowlands both give steady performances that underpin the moral of the story: Marriage is beautiful and can last a lifetime. As Duke’s voiceover says at the beginning, “I am a common man who has lived a common life. I’ve loved one woman with all my heart, and that’s enough.” Though the acting and cinematography are very good, the film suffers from a poor script and not knowing where to end. Some sexuality.
CELIBACY (June 28, HBO): This edgy, sensational (though calmly narrated) program attempts to examine the history and nature of celibacy in the Church. There is some truth in it, of course, but the information does not form a cohesive premise.
Thus, the implied conclusions that the Catholic practice of celibacy may almost certainly lead to dangerous behavior are out of context and unhelpful. This is a partially informed, hour-long, agenda-driven pseudo-documentary survey of celibacy in the Church. The real work on this subject is yet to be done. Images of sexual mutilation and devotional crucifixion may disturb viewers. (Repeats during July.)
LEGAL TV Among the 25 or so prime-time government or police crime dramas that ran on the major broadcast networks last season (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB), the Law & Order franchise (Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is way ahead of the competition in longevity, ratings and awards.
The only group that comes close, in terms of creating a variation on a theme and endurance (and graphic visuals), is CSI, CSI: Miami and, perhaps, the just-launched CSI: NY. And let’s not forget ABC’s venerated NYPD Blue.
Now that several networks have sworn off the nine-month TV season in favor of new programming year-round to stop the hemorrhaging of viewers to cable and satellite alternatives, we might still ask: What gives these programs their network (and syndication) longevity?
So much of prime-time TV is short-lived because producers have not found a formula that attracts the younger audience (especially males). But serious (though formulaic) police and crime dramas are re-created because people watch them. Therefore, ratings remain high and advertisers loyal.
I think Law & Order continues because it attracts a broad range of mature viewers who are interested in the moral issues that the well-crafted stories present. The audience rarely knows more than the characters. Thus, the human desire to find the truth is engaged.
Finally, we are able to identify intellectually with the moral stance of at least one of the good guys or gals. There is always resolution to the conflict. Most of the time, justice and right win but not always because what is legal is not necessarily moral.
Because this program allows us to witness some very distressing aspects of life without distressing us too much, Law & Order comes off as one of the more elegant television crime dramas.