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Reviews: March 23, 2008

23 Mar, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews

Day Break
Street 3/25

The Mist
Street 3/25

The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine
Street 3/25

Starting Out in the Evening
Prebook 3/26; Street 4/22
Lionsgate, Drama, B.O. $0.8 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for sexual content, language and brief nudity.
Stars Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose, Lili Taylor, Adrian Lester, Jessica Hecht.

Starting Out in the Evening is a probing and insightful character study graced by a wonderfully nuanced performance by Langella. He plays Leonard Schiller, a writer long consigned to the ranks of little-known authors who is trying to finish a final novel.

Schiller's reputation rests on his two earliest published novels. When he is approached by a graduate student (Ambrose) who wants to interview him, he initially refuses, reluctant to take time away from his writing. But a chance encounter with a literary agent convinces him that a little PR might be a good thing after all. So the pair begin a series of sessions during which the older writer quietly teaches the young woman some important life lessons.

At the same time, Langella and Taylor create a wonderfully believable father-daughter relationship that is loving, critical, impatient and worried, all at once.

Starting Out in the Evening is distinguished by Langella's rich and layered portrayal of an artist, conscious of his own mortality, trying desperately to make one final statement. Taylor also is affecting as a woman approaching middle age who both mistrusts and longs for the intimacy of a stable relationship. Ambrose does her best with the only role in the film that is not completely fleshed out.

Starting Out in the Evening is a lovely and quiet film about the artist's relationship to his art, his family and the world. Viewers interested in small, character-driven dramas will enjoy this thoughtful film. — Anne Sherber

The Walker
Prebook 3/27; Street 4/22
ThinkFilm, Drama, B.O. $0.08 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language, some violent material and nude images.
Stars Woody Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Ned Beatty, Mary Beth Hurt, Lily Tomlin, Willem Dafoe.

In the rarified circles of Washington's upper crust, rich women with neglectful husbands employ handsome and deferential men as escorts and companions. The men, known as walkers, are discreet, unfailingly polite and very often gay.

Harrelson plays just such a character, Carter Page III, who has cultivated a relationship with a catty trio of society dames who all depend on him for gossip, to flatter them and to join their weekly game of canasta.

However, there are some things from which even Carter cannot protect his ladies. When one arrives at the apartment of her lover only to discover him dead, Carter takes it upon himself to keep a full-fledged scandal from developing. But Carter is too gracious for his own good. Even while he is trying to protect his lady from disgrace and humiliation, she is hanging him out to dry.

The Walker is a bit of a head-scratcher. Although the plot revolves around a murder, it is a meandering and almost quiet movie. Although Harrelson is not the first actor to leap to mind to play Carter, he takes on the tight-lipped southern accent and mincing mannerisms gamely and with surprising success. He is surrounded by a high-powered cast of accomplished actors, also playing against type, including Bacall as the only one of his clients willing to tell him some version of the truth and Tomlin as a duplicitous society wife with no loyalty or sense of decency.

Also convincing are Dafoe and Beatty as rich and powerful men who believe they can get away with anything.

This is not unfamiliar territory for director Paul Schraeder, who touched on some of these same themes in the iconic American Gigolo in 1980. Although The Walker doesn't quite rise to that level, it is an interesting look at how sex and power are inextricably linked. — Anne Sherber

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie
Prebook 3/25; Street 4/22

Bad Meat

War Made Easy
Street 3/25
Disinformation, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Sean Penn.

War Made Easy is based on a book of the same name by Norman Solomon, who targets the spin that takes the United States into war over and over again. The key question here is: How many wars does it take before we start asking the right questions?

Solomon could be just another talking head, but it's much more effective interspersing his comments with newsreel clips dating back as far as President Lyndon Johnson and his speech using a naval skirmish in the Gulf of Tonkin as the justification for fanning the Vietnam War.

The film makes a reasoned case that the government repeats its rationale for war, and the media not only does little to question it, but also often becomes a cheerleader for impending attacks.

The clips speak for themselves, and the strength of this film is pulling them together where people can see the similarity. Just as nearly every rabble-rousing battle speech in drama is a rewrite of the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V, politicos rewrite the same script to sell military action of every proportion, from Vietnam to Grenada to Iraq. No threat is too small to fuel a justification for conflict.

The left wing news media doesn't escape criticism, especially regarding Iraq. Newsroom generals rush to assemble their teams of experts, often active in or retired from the very institutions most essential to war: military, defense contractors and politicians. Those teams must be in place in case of an offensive, which — intentionally or otherwise — the media helps to sell.

Most reporters didn't question the underlying claims that took us into Iraq. The few who questioned — notably Phil Donahue – were stricken from the airwaves for their heresy.

Faced with a decision about who should lead the country for the next four years, it's a good time to watch a film like this and ask ourselves what we should be asking our leaders and whom we should believe. Whether or not you agree with Solomon, this film offers signposts to watch for the next time around. — Holly J. Wagner

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