UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (A-3, PG-13): Frances (Diane Lane)
is a 35-year-old writer in San Francisco whose world collapses
when she discovers her husband’s affair. After he gets the house
in the divorce settlement, lesbian friends send Frances on a gay
tour of Tuscany so she can relax and not have to think about a
In the small town of Cortona, Frances sees an ad for
a villa called Bramasole and buys it on a whim. She soon
begins to transform the house with the help of a contractor and
his Polish work crew. The townspeople she meets include an eccentric
former actress-expatriate, Katherine (Lindsay Duncan).
Frances cooks for the construction crew, watches an
old man bring flowers to a Madonna shrine every day, and dreams
of a white dress, a wedding and a family.
One night, while she’s alone, there is a terrible
storm. Frances, a fallen-away Methodist, reaches up to touch the
Madonna above her bed and finally falls asleep.
While her villa is being renovated, she escapes to
Rome and meets handsome Marcello (Raoul Bova). They spend a night
together and Frances hopes for a future.
Needless to say, there is a white dress, a wedding
and a family—though not what you might expect.
Like the best-selling book Under the Tuscan Sun
by Frances Mayes (which I read after seeing the film), the
film is poetic, visually beautiful and filled with hope and new
life. The movie has a fairy-tale quality, while the book is a
tranquil narrative. But the book is in the film (storm, house,
landscape and many characters).
Frances is on a journey, in the midst of rebuilding
her house, her life. I loved the way the film, like the book,
showed the Madonna as her safe haven and friend.
The script occasionally tries too hard to be contemporary.
Thoughtful viewers will enter into this film with their moral
imagination to explore the characters’ choices. Some sexuality;
warm and inviting tale about sincere seekers who are in danger
of not recovering from the sadness that life hands them.
RIVER (A-3, R): Three 11-year-old boys are playing
hockey in the street of a working-class neighborhood of Boston
in the 1970s. When they lose their puck, they take turns writing
their names in the wet cement of the sidewalk.
A strange car comes down the street and a man, whom
the boys assume is a cop, scolds them. He insists that Dave get
in the car so he can take him home to the boy’s mother. The man
and his partner, who wears a ring with a cross, are pedophiles.
It takes Dave four days to escape, and the lives of all the boys
are changed forever.
Three decades later the boys are married, with
varying degrees of success, and no longer close. Jimmy (Sean Penn)
is an ex-con who runs a corner grocery. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is
a state trooper detective and Dave (Tim Robbins) is barely employed.
When Jimmy’s oldest daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum), is found murdered
the morning of his middle daughter’s First Communion, the men’s
lives collide—with devastating results.
Director Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Dennis
Lehane’s best-selling novel is as dark and brooding as the book.
The film explores the consequences of the choices the characters
make, looking back with guilt to Dave’s kidnapping years before.
It continually asks: What if?
The men and their wives seek redemption in antithetical
sacramental signs throughout the film: the river and baptism,
food and Eucharist, confession of sin and absolution, the crucifix,
murder and death, marriage, and the marginal presence of the parish
Pure love is doomed in Mystic River. The characters
condemn themselves forever to the kingpin moral universe of a
working-class neighborhood, where secrets hide sins and might
The Mystic River that runs under the bridge points
to possibilities but it is really standing water—stagnant. The
river borders a district where people go through the motions of
religion and respecting the law, but neither makes any difference
in terms of real life.
The film belongs to the exceptional ensemble of lead
actors, including Laurence Fishburne, and the women who play their
wives, especially Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden. If only
there was a little light! Problem language and violence.
(not rated, PG): Buddy’s (Will Ferrell) single mom dies and he
ends up in an orphanage. When Santa Claus (Ed Asner) arrives for
Buddy’s first Christmas at the orphanage, the baby somehow gets
out of his crib and into Santa’s toy bag. Santa unknowingly brings
him home to the North Pole. There, Buddy is adopted by a senior
elf (Bob Newhart) but quickly outgrows elfdom.
Thirty years later, Buddy learns the story of who
he is and sets off on a journey to find his real dad, Walter (James
Caan), who never knew he had fathered Buddy.
Buddy arrives in Manhattan to discover his dad is
a modern-day Scrooge. His half-brother doesn’t believe in Santa
Claus and the rest of the city seems to have forgotten the meaning
of Christmas. Buddy doesn’t understand that department store Santas
aren’t real. His naďveté embroils him in all kinds of innocent
holiday high jinks as he sets about to spread the Christmas spirit.
Elf, directed by Jon Favreau, is a goodwill
ambassador kind of film that will reassure viewers that New York
City is and always will be the popular Christmas capital of the
United States. Some mild rudeness; not exactly a classic but
there’s a feel-good quality that evokes chuckles and cheer.
FALLEN ANGEL (CBS, November 23): This Hallmark Hall of
Fame holiday special, based on the 2001 novel by Don J. Snyder,
begins on nine-year-old Terry’s birthday when he is given a fingerprinting
set. He fingerprints the little neighbor girl, Katherine Wentworth,
who is visiting nearby Serenity Cottage, a summer place in Maine,
even though it is winter.
Terry’s single dad, who cares for the summer houses
in the area, lets him go with the Wentworths to distribute Christmas
gifts to children at a hospital. On the way home, there is an
accident. A mother and her child are killed. Charles Wentworth,
who was driving, disappears, unable to stand the guilt.
Fast-forward 20 years. Terry (Gary Sinise), long alienated
from his father, returns home when his father dies. Katherine
(Joely Richardson) comes to Serenity Cottage with her adopted
daughter, who is blind.
Identities and fallen angels are discovered, secrets
are revealed, families are healed and there is romance in the
air at Christmas, the day of Christ’s birth. This is classic Hallmark
feel-good holiday drama, though a little darker and more deliberate
than usual, for the mature after-dinner audience.
ALIAS (ABC, Sundays): Now in its third season, this soapy,
hi-tech spy-opera combo stars Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner.
Sydney, the female undercover spy, never sleeps or eats or gets
jet lag as she travels around the world at high speed. She continually
changes her appearance to win the day. It’s a comic book come
to life—and my guilty pleasure.
GILMORE GIRLS (WB, Tuesdays): The sugar-and-spice quasi-soap
story of three generations of Gilmore women in a small New England
town is in its fourth season. Lorelai (Lauren Graham) is a single
mom to the almost angelic Rory (Alexis Bledel), who is entering
Yale. Emily (Kelly Bishop) is the matriarch. It’s all about family,
friends and relationships. The characters are high on too much
caffeine, but it’s a WB success.