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By James Arnold

Movies Offered Comfort in Hard 2001

Q U I C K S C A N

A Beautiful Mind
In the Bedroom
Amélie
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The St. Francis Episode



A BEAUTIFUL MIND

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (A-3, PG-13) is the story of a brilliant but arrogant man who is brought down by a mental disorder (schizophrenia). He battles back and is a much better man at the end than at the beginning.

Director Ron Howard's movie, based on Sylvia Nasar's book about Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., is somewhat more than just a powerful man-beats-disease flick.

It has earned major honors including Golden Globes for best film and best actor for Russell Crowe.

The versatile Aussie visually and emotionally disappears into a rich, fully developed role. It moves him from conceited hotshot young scholar to reluctant Cold War spy and obsessive code-breaker through several degrees of terror and madness all the way to gentler, wiser old age.

Shot mostly at Princeton, it also reveals some feel for the academic subculture and competitive meritocracy at an elite school. Recall how Shine, in describing its hero's mental breakdown, incidentally explored the world of classical-music genius.

Another aspect of A Beautiful Mind is its cinematic trickery: The audience (like many of the characters in this film) can't tell the difference (on screen) between reality and dream or fantasy. (Let's face it, all movie images are fantasy.) So Mind has some elements in common with The Sixth Sense.

Nash's mind may or may not strike you as beautiful, but the through-thick-and-thin relationship with his wife (played with insight by Golden Globe winner Jennifer Connelly) inspires. (In reality, they divorced but remarried.) Mind is a bit of a thriller, since the audience is as mystified as the hero about what is happening to him. A film that educates, entertains and arouses compassion; satisfactory for mature viewers.

IN THE BEDROOM

IN THE BEDROOM (A-4, R) is a misleading title for writer-director Todd Field's careful, achingly detailed debut film. It begins as a domestic drama in a small Maine seacoast town where Dr. Fowler and his wife (Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek) talk a lot in the bedroom. They disapprove of their beloved grad school-bound son's relationship with a pretty 30-ish blue-collar mom (Marisa Tomei) who is undergoing a divorce from the abusive, unstable scion of the local cannery owner.

The worst happens from a parent's viewpoint: The Fowlers' son is killed. Thus, Act Two is about parental grieving, repressed anger, their isolation from each other and friends, then hanging on to their shattered lives.

The situation worsens. They realize that both the prosecutor and the case against the killer are weak. In their typically quiet, resolute style, the Fowlers want to take justice into their own hands. It's an uneasy ending to an otherwise gripping film, whose hallmark is subtle characterization and meticulously created atmosphere.

Psychologically powerful, Bedroom comes up short on a moral level. The Fowlers earn empathy in a post-September 11 world in which so many have grieved for lost children: Americans long for payback and are tired of taking it. A rare contemporary realistic drama with authentic people that finally disappoints; satisfactory for mature viewers.

AMÉLIE

AMÉLIE (A-3, R): This joyous masterpiece about life in a few blocks in Paris is by writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Alien: Resurrection). In this whimsical romantic comedy, pretty but neurotic heroine Amélie (Audrey Tautou), a shy waitress in a Montmartre cafe, does a life-altering good deed and enjoys it so much she obsesses on doing anonymous good deeds. (Her hero is Zorro.)

The hilarious start has her tracking down the owner of a small box of boyhood treasures hidden 40 years ago in her bathroom wall. Then there is her morose father, who spends his days making garden gnomes and décor for his long-dead wife's grave. Amélie finds a way to stir his interest in travel.

She helps many others, too. But Amélie needs to fix her own life. She takes a shine to Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), a creative fellow who collects rejected scraps from around public photo booths for a collage of humanity. She sort-of-pursues him through the city with notes and mystery phone calls, gently leading him to a happy ending.

Amélie has been a mega-hit in France and likely will win some foreign-film honors here this spring. It's an art film, shot in roughly 80 different Paris locations and full of cinema tricks—fast and slow motion, statues with flashing eyes, and black-and-white movies that Amélie imagines in her head. It also has an amiable narrator who wryly describes the peculiarities of the neighborhood characters, including a lady who's sleeping all year so she can stay up all next year. Clever and spirited fun, in French with English subtitles; recommended for mature viewers.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (A-3, PG-13): J.R.R. Tolkien's extraordinary mythological adventure trilogy symbolizes the eternal clash between good and evil. Since the 1950s the fantasy novels have sold nearly 200 million copies and become almost as legendary as their subject. Now, the thick, much-admired work by the late, devout Catholic scholar from Oxford gets off to a roaringly fast, three-hour start in the movies.

The sweeping history and intricately invented races (Hobbits, Elves, Orcs, Uruk-Hai) and territories of make-believe Middle-earth were long considered unfilmable by conventional methods. But with enough money, imagination and obsession, just about anything can be done in movies right now.

Writer-director Peter Jackson and friends achieve a rousing spectacle in this first of three $90-million installments. But will it satisfy feisty Tolkien buffs who are quibbling on the Internet or in graduate seminars? Writing, after all, works on the imagination. And films are inevitably smaller, making dreams come to life in a very specific way.

The visions of New Zealander Jackson (Heavenly Creatures), shooting in his photogenic and unfamiliar-to-us homeland, are more than big enough to astonish moviegoers who don't know what to expect.

This is a medievalish tale about a mixed band of brave friends who take on a perilous journey through strange and exotic lands, pursued and attacked by murderous, often bizarre foes. There are generous helpings of the magical and demonic: Their task is to carry and destroy the ancient ring of the title, which has almost infinite powers of evil if it falls into the wrong hands. Even the good guys and the beautiful Elf Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) are tempted, except for the enduring young Hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood), the courageous (and often terrified) everyman hero.

The highlight of the first film is easily the hazardous journey through the Mines of Moria, a cave complex to frighten even bin Laden, with its horrendous battles with surreal ogres and escape over craggy bridges of rocks collapsing into bottomless pits of fire. The good cast offers some neat lines, including the very relevant "We must do the best we can in the times we are given." Uplifting but scary, grandly imaginative adventure; recommended for mature viewers.

The St. Francis Episode

THE ST. FRANCIS EPISODE of NBC's Crossing Jordan was a very mixed blessing. On one hand, Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessey), the cool heroine and scientific coroner-sleuth, who early in the show says, "I don't believe in anything I can't see, touch, feel or taste," is by the finale pouring her heart out in prayer (in a confessional), telling God, "I need you."

On the other hand, this Monday-night program is the kind of ditsy pop-culture comedy-drama that makes most of us humble pew-sitters roll our eyes. First, the episode, which aired in January, is set early in the context of luck, superstition and weird events due to an odd alignment of the planets. A homeless man claims to be St. Francis, the wife of a deceased man who looks like Elvis claims he is Elvis, and a deer that was hit by a car is brought to the morgue. Good bet that either the saint or Elvis will cure the deer.

Regarding the priests who are involved, the young handsome priest is a former beau of Jordan's. "Between you and God," he says, "there wasn't a choice." Eventually, he persuades her to pray, when she fears her dad has cancer. An older cleric apparently perpetrates much of the St. Francis hoax, although a few things are left unexplained, like stigmata in the dead man's hands and feet.

Such an opening, something inexplicable, is typical of TV treatments of the supernatural, like the department-store Santa who may be the real Santa. So we don't get good series about religion (dare I recall Nothing Sacred?) but occasional silly gifts like this one. In the key scene, as the corpses of deer and saint and Elvis lie on slabs, the doctors sing, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" The deer wakes up, gets off the table and walks out into the elevator.

It's kitsch, let's face it. We have to lighten up and realize the basic message that the universe is a mystery—not even Jordan knows everything. But a basic truth remains: St. Francis (not to mention Elvis), if he returned today, would have better sense than to be in this show.

 


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