What a difference a week makes.

Memorial Day weekend, I hunkered down and watched a bunch of movies on television.  I didn’t plan ahead very much, just sampled what was available on TV from old favorites like From Here To Eternity to The Best Years Of Our Lives along with a couple of new (to me) films.

In that category, I saw In Harm’s Way (the predictability and melodrama don’t make it less watchable, especially the brutal scene with Kirk Douglas’ character assaulting a young nurse on the beach), The Battle of the Bulge (I had not stopped to think before how many war films starred Henry Fonda starred – a lot), and the HBO film Taking Chance.

In Taking Chance, Kevin Bacon plays a volunteer military escort officer bringing a young marine’s body back to his hometown in Wyoming – the solder’s name is Chance Phelps – and this film really makes the viewer feel the weight of this fallen soldier more personally than you might expect.  In the last few years, people have stayed away from war films in droves, but some of them are worth watching.  We can all use a reminder of the human consequences of war, and this film is powerful.

What would I do without Turner Classic Movies?  HBO is proving useful, too.

This past weekend, my son was recovering from oral surgery (four wisdom teeth removed – ouch!), and in between trips to refill the ice packs, deliver snacks of applesauce and Jello, and mix up glasses of warm salt water for rinsing, I watched a bunch of modestly entertaining films that I had recorded off HBO for such occasions.  These are mostly films that didn’t make my top tier when they hit the local cinemas, but for one reason or another I decided to take a look over the last few days.

In the order I watched them:

Run Fatboy Run is a predictable romantic comedy but made a bit more pleasant, perhaps, because of the British accents and a bit less overdone because the narrative is told from a male perspective.  This 2007 films marks the directorial motion picture debut of David Schwimmer (yes, Ross on Friends) and precedes two other, recent romantic comedies told from male perspectives, 500 Days of Summer and Away We Go.

Yes Man is the Jim Carrey vehicle about the man who says no to everything until an outrageous plot point forces him to say yes.  Of course, it’s unlikely many people would say no to his co-star Zooey Deschanel (the Summer of 500 Days of Summer), but all’s well that ends well, right?

State of Play is a political thriller – sort of – that asks us to imagine that slick Senator Ben Affleck and scruffy journalist Russell Crowe were once college roommates and have remained friends.  It’s okay, I suppose, up until the last half-hour or so of the film when the story actually picks up steam.  This is surprising, really, because films more often have the opposite problem and fall apart in the second or third act.

Okay, I thought the preview trailers for Baby Mama looked really lame, but the film is a little better than that largely because of a polished (still predictable) screenplay and the generous charms of Tina Fey as a successful business woman who can’t seem to get pregnant even with the help of a fertility specialist and Amy Poehler as the rough-edged woman Fey’s character hires as a surrogate to carry her fertilized eggs.  I’m not arguing that the film is great, just that it is a little better than I had expected.

A totally different film in the “wisdom tooth series” over the weekend is Notorious, the story of Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, a rapper who came from the streets to find fame and money under the management of Sean Combs (who knows what to call him now?  He was Puffy back then).  This is as close to the thug life as I hope to come.  The film doesn’t work as well for me as Eight Mile or the fictive Hustle and Flow, but it does capture a moment in time.

Of course, I also did some reading over the weekend.  Old Jane Smiley, in case you’re wondering…now it’s back to work.


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