Our Souls at Night

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 1:29 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drunknenness
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, family troubles
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 29, 2017
Copyright 2017 Netflix

Our Souls at Night was the last novel written by best-selling author Kent Haruf, published after his death, and it has an elegiac quality. The film, the fourth pairing of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda and the first in 38 years, has a rare quality in film, quiet grace. Movies love to tell us the story of young love, impetuous, volatile, and thrilling. But there is something even more moving about last love, the love that happens when you are old enough to understand how precious it is and old enough to know how foolish it would be to waste any more time.

Addie (Fonda) and Louis (Redford) are longtime neighbors. They know each other a little in the way people in small communities do. He was her daughter’s teacher. Both widowed, they have been living alone. And then, one night, she knocks on his door to ask him a question: would he like to come over to her house and sleep with her? Not sex, she assures him quickly. It’s just lonely in bed, and it would be nice to have someone to talk to at the end of the day.

He asks for time to think about it, and then says yes, coming over to her house with his pajamas in a paper bag and going to the back door to keep the neighbors from gossiping. They get to know one another, in simple, spare, but profoundly honest conversations about their most painful experiences, told without rancor and told with a simple generosity of spirit.

When Addie’s young grandson comes for an unexpected visit, she and Louis become even closer as they give the boy a chance to open up. They have an idyllic moment, almost as though it is a second chance for them to correct the mistakes they made in their first families, and learning more about each other through him. Then other ties and complications return.

It is a joy to see these two marvelous actors with their chemistry undimmed, performers with a deep understanding of craft and a deep trust in each other, take on these roles. Like the characters they are playing, they are beyond pretense, with the sureness of experience and the joy of cherishing each moment that only comes with age.

Parents should know that the film has references to sad and difficult family situations including the death of a child. Characters drink and one drinks too much. There are sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation and characters use some mild language.

Family discussion: Why does Addie pick Louis? Why does Louis say yes?

If you like this, try: “On Golden Pond” and “Barefoot in the Park”

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More Robert Redford

Posted on August 12, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Robert Redford gives a marvelous performance in “Pete’s Dragon,” in theaters today.  It’s a good reminder to look back at some of his outstanding films, as actor, director, and producer, over the last five decades.

Redford repeated his Broadway role in the delightful romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park.

In Three Days of the Condor he was a researcher caught up in a story of spies and betrayal.

He was a bank robber and the best gunslinger in the west in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, co-starring Paul Newman.

He teamed up with Newman again in the Oscar-winning The Sting.

Barbra Streisand was his co-star in the bittersweet romance The Way We Were.

He produced and starred in another Oscar-winning Best Picture, All the President’s Men.

And he directed another Best Picture Oscar-winner, Ordinary People.

There are many, many more worth seeing, especially “Quiz Show,” “The Candidate,” “Downhill Racer,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “A Walk in the Woods,” “All Is Lost,” “Sneakers,” “The Electric Horseman,” “The Natural,” and “Out of Africa.”

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Pete’s Dragon

Posted on August 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Copyright 2016 Disney
Copyright 2016 Disney

Disney has wisely jettisoned the songs, the plot and the cartoon for the remake of the Helen Reddy musical with live-action boy befriended by a cartoon dragon. It’s still about Pete and his dragon friend Elliott, and the entirely new story that is genuinely enchanting.

This seems to be a year for stories about children who make friends with giant, magical creatures. We’ve already had “The BFG” and have “A Monster Calls” coming up. And this reworking also owes quite a debt to another live-action 3D Disney remake of just a few months ago, “The Jungle Book.” But hey, it is a lovely fantasy — a child left alone finds a devoted protector. Pete (Levi Alexander), age 5, is reading a book called Elliott Gets Lost in the back seat of the car with the encouragement of his parents when there is an accident. The parents are killed (very discreetly handled off-screen), and Pete is left alone, like Mowgli and Tarzan, but instead of being raised by wolves or apes, he is taken in by a furry green dragon he dubs Elliot.

Six years later, Pete (now played Oakes Fegley) is living a life of Rousseauian paradise in the woods. We don’t waste time on how or what they eat or why his teeth are so white and even. It’s just racing through the Edenic forest and, in the film’s most exhilarating scene, leaping off a cliff in the sure knowledge that Elliott will be there to catch him and take him soaring through the sky in gorgeous 3D. They are very happy together.

But a logging operation is moving very close to the cozy cave where Elliot and Pete live. Two brothers, Gavin (“Star Trek’s” Karl Urban) and Jack (Wes Bentley) are cutting trees in the forest under the watchful eye of Jack’s girlfriend, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger who considers the woods her home. Her father Meacham (Robert Redford) likes to tell local children the legend of the dragon in the woods and boasts that he once fought the dragon with a knife. But Grace insists that she knows every inch of the forest and does not believe his story.

Gavin is reckless and greedy. When Gavin’s crew goes beyond Grace’s limits, Jack’s daughter Natalie (“Southpaw’s” Oona Laurence) discovers Pete, who has not seen another person in six years. He goes home with Jack and Grace and begins to learn about the human world. But he misses Elliot terribly. Gavin discovers Elliot and thinks he can make a fortune by capturing him.

The movie is disjointed at times, likely due to recutting, leaving unanswered questions about Grace’s relationship to Jack and Natalie and oddly having three main characters motherless. I never quite got used to the idea of a dragon with fur instead of scales. But it is thrilling to see Pete and Elliot soar together and the love between them is genuine and heartwarming enough to make this one of the year’s best family films.

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy/action-style peril and violence, sad death of parents (discreetly shown) and references to other absent parents, and brief mild language.

Family discussion: Why did Gavin and Jack have different ideas about their business? If you had a dragon friend, what name would you pick?

If you like this, try: “The Jungle Book” and “Free Willy”

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Redford and Fonda Reunite on Netflix

Posted on July 18, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford have great on-screen chemistry, as we’ve seen in two films, and can now look forward to in a third.

In Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park they play newlyweds living in a five story walk-up. Corey (Fonda), based on Simon’s first wife, is free-spirited and spontaneous and Paul (Redford) is straightlaced and responsible.

Then they appeared in “The Electric Horseman,” the story of a rodeo star turned corporate spokesman who runs away with his championship horse and is followed by an ambitious newswoman.

And now they are reuniting for “Our Souls at Night,” based on the novel by Kent Haruf about a widow and a widower who reach out to one another for compansionship. It will be wonderful to see them together again.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture


Posted on October 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Copyright 2015 Sony Pictures
Copyright 2015 Sony Pictures

Often a movie “based on a true story” confirms and extends our understanding of what happened. This film, based on the “true story” that led to the departure of one of the most respected newsmen of all time, Dan Rather, from CBS, asserts its ambitions with its title and goes on to explore the very nature of truth and our willingness or ability to uncover and recognize it. I did not have strong views about what happened in 2004, just a recollection of the incident as a turning point, with the most respected broadcast journalist in the country being brought down by bloggers, who were able to determine that documents relied on in a story about President George W. Bush were forgeries. In my mind, the story was about the shift from old to new media, where the Davids of the blogosphere could challenge the powerful Goliaths of CBS News.

But in this movie, based on the book by Rather’s producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett, blazingly intelligent and forceful), we see another side of the story, written by James Vanderbilt. This is her version (if there is such a thing as versions) of the truth.

No matter which version of the story you believe, lesson number one of this movie is that you are at your most vulnerable when you feel most powerful. Mapes has just come off the greatest triumph of her career, the Peabody award-winning story about the horrific abuse of prisoners by the US military at Abu Ghraib. She is looking for another great scoop, and as the Presidential election approaches, it looks like she has one. Rumors about special treatment for George W. Bush, both in being allowed to serve in the National Guard and during his time there, have circulated for years, and now there seems to be substantiation, including on-the-record statements by the former Lieutenant Governor and some memos from the younger Bush’s commanding officer. Four document experts were called in by Mapes to authenticate the documents and, with the proviso that as photocopies there was no way to test the ink or paper of the originals to verify them completely, the experts signed off. The other steps taken by Mapes and the staff of reporters, including research expert Mike Smith (Topher Grace, who should be in more movies) and former military officer Dennis Quaid (ditto), are impressive. But it is possible that their supervisors did not ask enough questions and it is certain that moving up the broadcast date at the last minute cut off their ability to lock down all of the story.

And then it all fell apart. Bloggers identified problems with the memos’ fonts that indicated they were created on a computer, not a typewriter, and thus could not have been written in the 1970’s. CBS convened a commission led by a former (Republican) Attorney General to review the story. Their focus was not as much on whether the story was true or not (the memos were just one small part of the story) but whether the reporters had a political agenda.

A lot of people got fired. Smith makes a speech on the way out the door that identifies a culprit more insidious than partisan politics — corporate conflicts of interest. There are times when protection of shareholder value is not consistent with getting the story. The most important question this movie asks is what that means for democracy and for, well, truth.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language and brief nudity in a photograph. Characters drink and take medicine to deal with stress. There are references to torture and child abuse and there are tense confrontations.

Family discussion: What should Mary have done differently? How did her childhood experiences affect her relationship with Rather and her response to her father? Should she have followed her lawyer’s advice?

If you like this, try two other fact-based films about journalists fighting to expose the truth about powerful people: “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight

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