There's much to be said for a film that, however cheesily realized, sticks in memory for four decades. Peter Glenville's historical drama about the parting of ways between King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) was released in 1964, just around the time I was boning up for high school exams on both the Jean Anouilh play on which it was based, and T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, another strong influence on the movie. The homoerotic subtext went right by me then, but it's impossible to miss in this sharply restored new print, with the lovely irony of two of British cinema's top rous playing against each other, one as the tempestuous Norman King who, on a whim, appointed his fellow party boy Archbishop of Canterbury, only to discover to their mutual astonishment that the iconoclastic Becket took his calling seriously. Almost bare of battle scenes, Becket is a tale of how one man's religious crisis fanned the flames of conflict between the crown and the church, with a clutch of stalwart supporting performances from O'Toole's wife, Sian Phillips, as Becket's doomed mistress, to Donald Wolfit (he of the well-forested eyebrows) as Becket's rival the Bishop of London, to John Gielgud as a wily King Louis VII of France. It's also an improbable, titillating and oddly moving love story between two men with irreconcilably different temperaments. The king may be an overgrown schoolboy, but he loves and hates like a human being, not like a saint. Becket's the saint if you need one, but the key insight is that he becomes a man of God because he has no idea how to love men or women. In other words, he has the soul of a fanatic—which makes Becket a highly contemporary work, I'd say. (Ella Taylor)(Edwards University, Irvine)
HURRICANE ON THE BAYOU
Though Spike Lee's excellent When the Levees Broke still sets the gold standard, producer/director Greg MacGillivray and his crew from Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray Freeman Films do manage to hone in on a unique angle that legitimizes this 42-minute IMAX film's place among an ever-growing canon of Hurricane Katrina documentaries. MacGillivray was about to create man-made storm sequences for his look at New Orleans musicians using their talents to help restore what Cajun blues guitarist Tab Benoit calls "our natural speed bumps for hurricanes," Louisiana's coastal wetlands. Then along came the worst flood and costliest disaster in U.S. history to provide veteran nature filmmaker MacGillivray nearly all the footage he would need. (A falling water tower and scraps of metal peeling off the Superdome roof were computer-generated because nasty conditions made capturing those moments live impossible.) Narrated by Meryl Streep and seasoned with music from a cross-section of New Orleans musicians as diverse as the ingredients in homemade gumbo, Hurricane on the Bayou won't leave you as heartbroken over the plight of your fellow man or as incensed over government incompetence/inaction the way Spike Lee's Joint did, but it ends on an uplifting note that lets you rest easier about the future of the Big Easy. (Matt Coker) (IMAX at Edwards "Big One" Megaplex, Spectrum, Irvine)
IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
See "Style Offensive" (Edwards Westpark, Irvine)
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BECAUSE I SAID SO
See "Date My Mom" (Countywide)
Depictions of upper-middle-class African-American life are such a rare screen commodity that one wants to give a movie like Constellation every possible benefit of the doubt. Written and directed by Jordan Walker-Pearlman (whose promising 2001 debut feature, The Visit, starred several of the same actors), the film leapfrogs between present-day Huntsville, Alabama and 50 years earlier, when a beautiful young black woman (Gabrielle Union) was torn from the white soldier she loved as a result of the era's segregation laws. Now that woman is dead and about to be buried, and as her extended family—her emotionally withdrawn artist brother (Billy Dee Williams), his ex-wife (Lesley Ann Warren), and their two daughters (Melissa De Sousa and Zoe Saldana)—gathers for the occasion, it's as if she is guiding them from beyond the grave to find peace, love, and understanding in their own troubled relationships. Constellation (which was filmed in 2004 and played festivals in 2005) wants to be a sweeping, multi-generations tear-jerker a la The Notebook, complete with endless shots of two characters staring meaningfully at one another while gloppy sentimental music wells on the soundtrack. Only Williams, however, makes any real emotional connection—I'm not sure I'd call it a good performance, but there's something intrinsically fascinating about seeing the man once heralded as "the black Clark Gable" three decades removed from heartthrob status, heavy and sullen-looking, weighed down by the burdens of time and age. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)
Oh boy—a shocker set against the terrifying backdrop of North Dakota sunflower farming! Get ready for the ultimate in helianthus horror as a Chicago couple (Dylan McDermott and Penelope Ann Miller, no threat to Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor), their troubled teen daughter (Kristen Stewart), and mute 3-year-old son stake their future in a haunted farmhouse, where apparitions bedevil the kids but leave the disbelieving parents alone. The second lousy horror movie in a month (after The Hitcher) to reference Hitchcock's The Birds, the film is credited to Bangkok/Hong Kong filmmakers Danny and Oxide Pang (The Eye), with reported reshoots by Eduardo Rodriguez (Curandero). But the end result looks heavily doctored: The Sam Raimi-produced feature is a badly acted, nonsensical patchwork of fake scares, crow attacks, and wall-crawling CGI spooks, capped by a DVD extra of an ending that must have the real resolution gagged somewhere in a closet. At least it can claim two dubious cinematic records: the fastest-growing field of sunflowers in movie history, as well as the quickest recovery from a pitchfork impalement. (Jim Ridley) (Countywide)
A review will appear ASAP. (Edwards "Big One" Megaplex, Spectrum, Irvine)