Having lived in a town relatively close to Atlanta for over 45 years, I have often had to drive to the big A to see decent movies because they didn't play here for months, if ever. So last weekend while we were in Memphis with family, I managed to see two well-made, perhaps Oscar-worthy films. The first was ARBITRAGE, smartly directed and written by Nicolas Jarecki and starring Richard Gere as a powerhouse hedge funder in crisis. Judging from the public reaction to some excellent films on the economic crisis (MARGIN CALL), very few will see this one, but they should. Gere gives one of his best performances as he tries to juggle family problems, the implosion of his company, and a cover-up of a personal disaster. The supporting cast is equally strong, especially Susan Sarandon as Gere's seemingly compliant and happy wife and Tim Roth as a dedicated but somewhat sleazy cop on Gere's trail. We expect more emphasis on the wheel and deal world of high finance but instead we are thrown into a tense thriller where death and family ruin are in the cards. Highly recommended.
One of the most popular young adult novels, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, 1999, has finally been turned into a movie which keeps the strengths of its origins. Why? The author, Stephen Chbosky, has written the screenplay and directed the film himself. As in the novel, "Charlie," the wallflower of the title tells of his dilemma after a mental breakdown before going into high school. He is more than shy and fears a relapse, as do his parents. Logan Lerman, who played Christian Bale's loyal son in THREE TEN TO YUMA, is an appealing young actor who can capture mood changes with just a slight movement in his face. His version of Charlie is humorous, fearful, and occasionally heart-breaking. The camera catches intimate moments without undo comment and that makes them even more emotional. At one point Charlie happens to see his older sister's boyfriend slap her viciously and tries to intervene. This action makes us admire him even more. Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, is believable as senior outsider Sam who, along with her openly gay half-brother Patrick, takes him under her wing. That acceptance into a group, even one of outsiders, is the beginning of Charlie's reemergence into life. But there are pitfalls, especially when Charlie falls in love with Sam. The entire cast is excellent, and the wonderful Paul Rudd plays an understanding English teacher. When Charlie spontaneously hugs him at the end of the school year, some former teachers felt more than a little tug at the heart. Unlike most teen dramas, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is meant to be seen by audiences of all ages. Its understanding of sensitive issues such as mental illness, abuse, and bullying make it much more important than the usual teen trash. Highly recommended.
FOOTNOTE: no bows and arrows, vampires, werewolves, or avengers were used in the making of these films. However, sex, alcohol, rock and roll, and drugs do appear in one or both.