Hank’s Recommendations 01/08/13

GAME CHANGE — This is a cannily entertaining dramatization of the sixty days between the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate and the subsequent defeat of their campaign against Obama. It plays on what engrossed us then and adds background material that ups the fascination.

The casting is perfect. Julianne Moore and Ed Harris nail their portrayals of Palin and McCain. But it’s Woody Harrelson, in a somber role that eschews the usual wiseass spin of his characters, who takes command of the film. Playing McCain’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, It’s mostly through his eyes and those of his communications director (Sarah Paulson) that we see the inability of McCain’s team to command the dogmatic yet ignorant, obsequious yet headstrong Governor of Alaska. The failure and frustration of their diligent attempts to tutor the dim yet headstrong Palin leads only to the inexorable collapse of the campaign and the ironic rise of Palin‘s own star celebrity.

Above all, this is a fun movie that zips along with good dialogue.

“You know what Dick Cheney said when he found out we picked her? …He said we made a reckless choice. When you lose the high ground to Dick Cheney it’s time to rethink your entire life?”

And it offers us a double pleasure. We can enjoy this in our living rooms while not suffering regret for an election that might have gone the other way.

SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION – This oft-requested film, adapted from Ken Kesey’s second novel and ably directed by its star, Paul Newman, has just arrived in DVD and Blu ray. Unlike Milos Forman’s adaptation of Kesey’s debut ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, which largely takes place in interior locations and deals with interior states of mind, this film takes place in the rugged outdoors of Oregon’s lumber industry. There, a prodigal son (Michael Sarrazin) returns to the rough and tumble Stamper family, longtime loggers who are the sole holdouts against a union’s attempt to organize their community, strikebreaking their fellow loggers in order to fulfill their own word on contracts. As if logging itself wasn’t dangerous enough, their motto of “never give an inch” is dangerously angering their likewise rough and tumble neighbors.

That motto—which is sometimes a great notion and sometimes not—is reflexively use against themselves as well, and is threatening to rend their family asunder.

It’s a great cast (including Henry Fonda, Lee Remick and Richard Jeckel) and the logging scenes themselves are fascinating. There are two scenes in this at times high voltage drama that are justifiably famous: one tragic and one triumphant that alone makes this film worth the price of admission.

A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE — One of my keen pleasures in watching the franchise-restoring SKYFALL, the latest James Bond film, was seeing yet one more indelibly fine performance by an actor I had thought gone from the stage: Albert Finney as Bond’s longtime retainer at the otherwise abandoned moorland manse where Bond grew up.

We just happened to watch another magnificent Finney performance in a BAFTA Award winning movie, adapted from an Angela Carter novel, made in 1998: A Rather English Marriage. Here a milkman (Tom Courtenay) and a blustery wealthy former WWII squadron leader (Finney) become “odd couple” housemates after their wives die minutes apart in the same hospital. Poignantly shared reminiscences and current outside conflicts (e.g. an alluring gold digger played by Joanna Lumley) cause these two to transcend class lines and personality differences to become a third “rather English marriage.” It’s a pleasure to see Courtney and Lumley but it’s Finney who once again brings force and range to a sensitively limned performance.  This film can be found in our New British Arrivals section.