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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

my week at the movies: ‘The Jane Austen Book Club,’ ‘Into the Wild,’ ‘The Brave One,’ ‘In the Valley of Elah,’ ‘Feast of Love’

I loved Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book Into the Wild, about a privileged young American man who was precisely the wrong combination of book-smart and real-world-naive who pulled a Thoreau and withdrew from the modern world in remote mountain Alaska. Now, Sean Penn has made Into the Wild, the movie [opens wide September 21], starring the wonderful Emile Hirsch as the young man. I can’t wait to see this one. [edited 09.07 to remove a spoiler for those who don’t know the book… but honestly, you should read it]

The Jane Austen Book Club [opens limited September 21] is also based on a novel of the same name by Karen Joy Fowler, who was a science fiction and fantasy writer and editor but never had a bestselling work until this work of putative chick lit. I haven’t read the book, and I don’t mean to demean Fowler’s work, which I’ve enjoyed in the past. I mean to demean the larger culture that isn’t smart enough to handle real SF/F but runs to anything that smacks of faux literary faux romance. I doubt Fowler’s novel is faux anything, but I can’t help but imagine that it was nothing but “Jane Austen” in the title that drew dreamy little girls of all ages. (The story is apparently about modern-day gals discovering their “inner Austens” via their book club.) Here’s hoping the movie is as smart of anything created by Fowler should be.

Jodie Foster goes vigilante in The Brave One [opens wide September 14]. I’d be afraid for this one, except it’s from Neil Jordan — I’ve seen most of his films, and there isn’t a one I don’t really, really like. So fingers crossed for this one.

In the Valley of Elah [opens limited September 14; expands throughout September] is the new film from Paul Haggis, who wrote the back-to-back Oscar Best Picture winners Crash and Million Dollar Baby; he wrote this one, too. It’s about the mysterious death of a soldier just home from Iraq, and his father’s investigation into it when the army seems content to ignore it. Tommy Lee Jones is the dad; Charlize Theron is the local cop sympathetic to his cause. Fun this one ain’t (I saw it yesterday), but it is quietly, deeply powerful.

With a cast of thousands — Morgan Freeman, Selma Blair, Greg Kinnear, Jane Alexander, Kate Mulligan, etc., etc. — Feast of Love [opens wide September 28] is gonna be one of those movies where you’re constantly going, “Hey, look, it’s So-and-so!” Oh, and it’s about love, apparently.

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  • Well, actually I’d say it’s Becoming Jane, which you thought was so great, that was made for the “dreamy little girls” who love Anne Hathaway from the Princess movies, because don’t think it’s her massive talent that got her the job. (Feel free to substitute “Keira Knightley” for “Anne Hathaway” and “Pride and Prejudice” for “Becoming Jane” and “pirates” for “princess” in the above.) 14-year-old girls, bless them, love moody melodrama and insipidly romantic endings and aren’t particular about little things like logical plots.

    The novel The Jane Austen Book Club IS wonderful, and I’m hoping the film is worthy of it. I’m told it is, at least, for grownups, and as a grownup Janeite I thank Jane for that.

  • MaryAnn

    *Book Club* is a good movie, but anyone who thinks *Becoming Jane* is for dreamy little girls hasn’t seen it. :->

  • I saw it twice. Nearly fell asleep the second time. Why did I go back? Because it was a free screening and I promised to take a friend before I found out about the first one. Also I was hoping that maybe I’d like it better; alas, no.

    And yes, it’s for little girls who think Romeo and Juliet is romantic. If they’re going to make up a story, why not make up a good one, one worthy of Jane’s work?

  • amanohyo

    Hey now, some guys think that Romeo and Juliet is romantic too, some of them also enjoy Jane Austin’s books, some of them are even out of college… at least, I mean, I accidentally overheard some other guys talking about how romantic they thought R&J was… on my way to uh… a sports bar… to watch a boxing match…and then I drunkenly objectified several attractive women… yes, that’s the ticket…

    Seriously though, I know plenty of non 14-year-old girls who get caught up in the romance of both Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice. Now if you had brought up Danielle Steele or even *shudder* Nicholas Sparks, I could see where you were coming from. But surely this movie can’t be as shallow as the works of those two literary giants?

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