Sunday, September 14, 2008

2 Reviews for the Price of One...

Somehow, with all the school craziness, I managed to watch 2 movies this week. Actually I watch more TV while I'm working than when I'm on summer vacation. Sometimes I just don't have the energy for anything else. And, thanks to Netflix, there's always something new headed for my mailbox. (Don't have cable--don't need it or want it.)

The 2 films I saw this week couldn't be more different, the famous Bette Davis movie, ALL ABOUT EVE, and the months-old-family-film, NIM'S ISLAND.
ALL ABOUT EVE was made in 1950, and is #16 on the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 Greatest Films of All Time. I have heard about it for years and decided to give it a try. I watched it with my mom over 3 nights and, although I can't see myself wanting to see it again or to own it, it was certainly riveting.

Bette Davis plays a 40 year old theater actress named Margo Channing, who is introduced one night to a starry-eyed fan named Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter. Eve has heartfelt stories of her childhood, tragic marriage, and aspirations. Margo takes pity on her and gives her a job as her assistant, and, before you know it, Eve has found a way to enter every aspect of Margo's life. You realize there is nothing innocent about her.

I won't go into more details about the story, but it is very good. Most of us have known someone who is manipulative, passive-aggressive, dishonest, and knows their audience all too well. We all hope that karma will teach people like that a lesson one day. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. To add insult to injury, some of us have known people like that who manage to get everything they want at the expense of others yet no one realizes it except a few people. They are the worst, because they cloak everything in innocence. Eve is like that. (I had a roommate like that one semester in college. It was maddening.)

I found the film's ending very satisfying, yet completely not what I expected. That is the sign of a great film. The supporting characters were very good. My favorite was George Sanders, who plays a greasy critic named Addison DeWitt. Only at the end do you discover whether DeWitt is a good guy or bad guy. Sanders won an Oscar for his portrayal of the character, whose dialogue drips out of him with that great voice of his. (He is the voice of the tiger, Shere Khan, in Disney's 1967 JUNGLE BOOK.)

ALL ABOUT EVE comes highly recommended from me. You'll get more and more frustrated as the movie continues, then gasp with surprise at the ending, then sigh with relief yet leave with questions. You'll also see a short cameo by a young Marilyn Monroe. As Bette Davis says partway into the film:

On the other end of the spectrum, is NIM'S ISLAND, with Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, and Gerard Butler. OK, confession, I only rented this to see Gerard Butler, who has made me weak in the knees since The Phantom of the Opera, but I was surprisingly pleased with this film as a whole.

Abigail Breslin and Dakota Fanning are probably the 2 hottest child actors around these days, but I like Abigail Breslin much better. She's a kid who doesn't act like an adult, as I have seen Dakota Fanning do when she is interviewed. Let's face it, no one likes a pretentious pre-teen.

Breslin plays Nim, the 11 year old daughter of research scientist, Jack Rusoe. Together they live on an island whose coordinates only they know. Their only contact with the outside world is the internet and the supply ship that they meet several hundred yards out to sea every few months.

Jodie Foster is a modern-day version of Kathleen Turner's character in Romancing the Stone. An agoraphobic who lives in San Francisco, she lives on Progresso Soup as she writes the adventures of Alex Rover, a play on her own name, Alexandra Rover.

On the same day that Jack leaves Nim for what is supposed to be a 2 day expedition to study glowing plankton, Alexandra emails him for information on volcanoes to use in her next book. Nim answers her and they begin to correspond. When bad weather hits and Jack is seemingly lost at sea, Nim pleads with "Alex" Rover to come and help her. Alexandra forces herself to confront her fears with the help of her alter ego, Alex (also played by Gerard Butler, looking very "Indiana Jones.") Needless to say, she is not what Nim was expecting when she finds the island.

It's corny in the retelling, but fun in the watching. I get pretty bored with kids' movies, but this one had my attention the entire time. Everyone has struggles and fears to overcome, whether it is a sinking boat, leaving the house, or finding their dad. Nim's animal friends are cute and make just enough appearances to be fun but not ridiculous. And, of course, let's not forget about the big cruise ship trying to claim Nim's island for its own. This side story could've really ruined the movie, but the writers keep it in just long enough to keep the action moving forward.

I liked it. I would show it to my students and recommend it to parents. It is rated PG, but the only thing I saw were 2 very quick "damns." The story is good and redefines what it means to be a hero. It also shows a spunky kid who relies on her imagination, something kids today use all too rarely.

2 movies, 2 recommendations, but 2 different audiences.

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