Need ideas for what to see this weekend at the local cineplex? Here are three options I'd recommend:
Starring Clint Eastwood
(Rated R for violence, language, racial slurs)
Eastwood's final film role (according to reports) is the grizzled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski, who comes home from his wife's funeral to find himself alone in a changing world. The neighborhood he built a life in has changed completely, his children are grown and indifferent, and the only friendships he has are with other oldtimers and a fresh-faced priest who won't leave him alone (his wife's wishes). When Walt finds his Hmong neighbors harrassed by a local gang, he is able to put aside his prejudices to defend the defenseless, and in doing so finds a new purpose for his twilight years.
What I liked about this film is that, while it could have been preachy and obvious, it took a less didactic approach, and did more showing than telling. Walt was a real person instead of a charicature of a "racist who learns acceptance." Change doesn't come easy. What I loved about the film was the ending. I won't spoil it here, but I'll just say, in its way, it gives an amazing picture of the Christian ideal of "overcoming evil with good." As a viewer, I felt the tension between my desire to see the wicked "punished" with righteous vengeance, and my beliefs as a follower of Jesus. The film balances this in a really compelling way.
If you can handle some violence, language, and racial slurs, I highly recommend Eastwood's masterful film.
Starring Dev Patel
(Rated R for language, some violence, thematic elements)
When a young man from the slums of Mumbai goes on a miraculous run on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," questions are raised, and accusations of cheating begin to fly. In this film by Danny Boyle (director of a bunch of great films), we learn the story of Jamaal, the "slumdog" whose astounding and improbable life journey leads him to the "hot seat" and a chance at the grand prize.
All the hype you've heard about this film? Totally justified. This film is sometimes gritty, at times emotionally brutal, but ultimately unstoppably hopeful. This is one of those films that will leave you feeling good about life. The storytelling technique is engaging. The actors are all phenomenal. Really, you need to go see this film. If there were a way for Slumdog, Gran Torino, and Dark Knight to ALL get the Best Picture Oscar, just as a way to apologize for all the sucky Best Picture winners of the past decade or so, it would prove there is justice in the Academy.
So yeah, go see Slumdog. Trust me. Just go.
Paul Blart, Mall Cop
Starring Kevin James
(Rated PG for mild violence, alcohol use)
Paul Blart is a (you guessed it) mall security guard who has tried and failed to join the New Jersey state troopers several times. However, when his mall is taken over on "Black Friday" by a coordinated (and oddly acrobatic) gang of thieves, Blart is the "last line of defense" and makes a "John McClane"-like stand to protect his friends and daughter and foil the plot.
This is a silly, harmless, enjoyable popcorn flick about a loveable schlub who gets an opportunity to be the hero and save the day. Kevin James is a great comedic actor who relies on physical humor and completely selling his character; this is the kind of commitment that makes Will Ferrell so brilliantly funny at times. The film isn't perfect, and may only be worth a rental, but if you've got a family, you can feel good about taking your older kids to see it. (Young kids may get scared by the gunfire and threats of violence. And there is a sequence in which Blart gets drunk accidentally, so if alcohol use is an issue, keep an eye out for that.)
[Coming tomorrow: some capsule video reviews.]