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Healing Hands

Engaging Hallmark special, better than most
Eddie Cibrian is a janitor who recovers from an accident and discovers that he has acquired healing powers. The movie explores the implications of his new-found gift, especially the cost that it imposes on him and the people close to him. Cibrian is likeable and carries the movie gracefully, with an adequate supporting cast. "Resurrection" (1980), with Ellen Burstyn, is a superior movie that explores most of the same themes on a much deeper level, and packs a far more powerful emotional punch. But "Healing Hands" will always have a special place in my heart because of the circumstances under which I saw it -- on vacation with my 1-year old grand-daughter, who is just acquiring many of the abilities that I find myself gradually losing as a septuagenarian. "Healing Hands" resonated with that situation and gave me a perspective from which to accept generously, even embrace, the inevitable process of aging. My nine stars are a personal tip of the hat for that gift. You can't ask for much more from a movie.

The Souvenir

dreary autobiographical exercise
If you think your life is dreary, or you're sometimes not quite sure, have pity on posterity. Eschew self-portraiture.

Doubles vies

Not for everyone, but you know who you are.
Interesting and entertaining. The English title is "Non-Fiction", but the original French title "Doubles Vies" (Double Lives) is more descriptive. The theme centers around writing and publication in the internet age, with provocative snippets of bracing conversation, some hilarious deadpan humor, and sexual infidelity as a metaphor for how writing cheats reality, all perfectly framed by the French language and the Gallic temperament. (Needs to be seen in the original French, with subtitles if necessary.) You could describe it as a fast-talking intellectual comedy, but it's one of those movies that can be as deep as you want to make it. I plan to rent it so I can stop/replay some of the dialogue. The director, Olivier Assayas, is a master of layered meanings.

Juliet, Naked

Hilarious and thought-provoking
Juliet Naked is an entertaining and provoking dramedy that asks (but wisely doesn't pretend to answer) whether it's better to live irresponsibly or responsibly. Ethan Hawke stars in the role he was born to play, as a once-almost-famous rock musician who never really grew up, who has left a string of messy life situations in his wake, opposite Rose Byrne, who has lived an orderly life and left nothing in her wake. Some subtly hilarious moments. Serendipitously, there was a row of young women behind me in the theater who liked to laugh, who contributed greatly to my enjoyment of the movie, and who are responsible for at least one of the 8 stars I have awarded it.

The Oath

A rollercoaster ride
The Oath is an example of a relatively new genre that I suppose we can expect to see more of: the political horror movie. The thumbnail describes it cheerfully as "a man struggles to keep his politically divided family from falling apart over the Thanksgiving holiday." Nuh uh. It's actually a plausible scenario for a fascist takeover in America. Appropriately, it sneaks up on you. It starts out as a light comedy -- a good excuse to munch through a bucket of popcorn -- then seems to veer off course, becoming uncomfortably raw. And then things head south. Predictably some critics have called it out for inconsistency of tone -- missing the point. Billy Magnusson steals the show with a late appearance as an agent for the Citizens Protection Unit.


A spiritual detective story
I just saw a surprisingly interesting movie called The Apparition. No, not a horror flick, but rather a spiritual detective story, about a secularish journalist who is recruited onto a Vatican commission to investigate a sighting of the Virgin Mary in a French Village.

I hesitate to recommend it because it is 2 1/2 hours long, although it never seemed to drag. The lead is played by Vincent Lindon, one of those deep-voiced French actors who seem to purr their lines rather than speak them.

One of the realities that the movie explores is how uncomfortable the Catholic Church is with these kinds of sightings, which are subjected to intense scrutiny. Very few of them receive the Church's endorsement. Most are eventually rejected as unauthentic. Part of the Church's problem is its orthodoxy. The Church is like a sheepdog, driven by instinct to perpetually circle its flock, keeping them in a tight bunch. Every question of faith must be either dogma or heresy, believed by everybody or by nobody -- lest they forfeit the high ground of orthodoxy. Superimposed on this is the Church's need to protect its role as intermediary between man and God. If direct experience of the divine is commonplace, the Church and its sacraments are unnecessary. And if visionaries are adored and invested with exceptional spiritual powers, they wind up in direct competition with the hierarchy. The Church is (rightly) fearful of the potential mischief of cults.

Critics have charged the movie with lack of focus, and the director with lack of discipline, and the ending with lack of resolution. They have missed the point. One of the main themes is that different people pursue different sorts of truth. The Vatican wants spiritual truth. The journalist just wants to know exactly what happened (or didn't happen) and is not much concerned one way or the other with its spiritual significance. His is not a conflict of faith; his conflict is that his instinct as a journalist tells him that the girl he is investigating is sincere, but the facts don't add up. In this context, the ending is perfect. But the movie is a rich tapestry, with a lot else going on. It treats every character (save one, an American evangelist) with respect, and allows each his or her own truth. Its theme requires a broad focus, and a wandering camera. And 2 1/2 hours.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

Warning to readers of reviews of "Disappearance..."
Apparently different versions exist. This IMDb site lists the running time as a little over two hours, but the version I saw was listed at well over three hours. It was very long, basically two movies back to back. Many of the scenes were shown twice, from the perspective of the two principals, with differences that were sometimes striking and sometimes very subtle. I found it fascinating, but I can imagine that some viewers will become impatient. (My bladder did -- don't go into this one with a large Coke.) I would like to see it again on video so I can go back and forth and compare versions of events, but I am worried that I'll end up renting a shorter version. The existence of different versions makes it a moving target -- it's difficult to review, and even more difficult for a prospective viewer to evaluate on the basis of published reviews, if you don't know which version the reviewer saw. They say the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is three days. Well, the difference between a good movie and a bad movie may be as little as three minutes, edited out or left in.

I'm giving this movie 9 stars because of a single line of dialog that blew me away and changed my perception of a lot of experiences in my own life. You can't ask for more than that from a movie. It's a comment made by one of the minor characters (the waitress) -- almost a throwaway line, really -- about the effect that people have on each other in relationships. I don't even know if it is included in the shorter version of the movie.

Stories We Tell

Not as billed, maybe better
If you watch this movie expecting it to be as advertised, you may be disappointed, or at any rate bemused. The thumbnail summaries that I have read, as well as the movie's own introductory passages, all present it as an exploration of how different people create different stories from the same event. I think this may be what the director set out to do. But in fact, in the end everyone pretty much agrees about what happened, with one or two notable exceptions.

What Sarah Polley ended up creating is a meditation on what breaks families apart, and what holds them together. The insights are important, and often counterintuitive, and sometimes startling. What captured my interest, and moved me deeply, was not the detective aspects of the story -- not the revealing of family secrets -- but the gradual unraveling of their causes and effects. For this, the format of the film -- interviews with many family members and family friends -- is absolutely crucial. Some reviewers have complained that the interviews become boring and repetitive. I admit that some patience is required in hearing them out, but it is amply repaid.

I am also grateful to Sarah Polley for trying to do something different on screen. In the featureless landscape of contemporary cinema, Stories We Tell is a landmark.

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