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BY Steven D. GreydanusFilm Critic
A Beautiful Mind (2001) PICK
Cinderella Man (2005) PICK
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) PASS
My Neighbor Totoro (1988) PICK
Blu-ray or DVD twofer sets are rarely worthwhile, but here’s a happy exception: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, two fact-based dramas, both directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe. Each is about a talented but troubled man who struggles to overcome adversity for the love of his wife and her love for him.
In A Beautiful Mind, Crowe plays John Nash, a brilliant but schizophrenic mathematician, whose wife, Alicia (beautifully played by Jennifer Connelly), helps him stay afloat amid a sea of delusion. Alicia’s great line about "forcing" herself to see in him the man she married — "and he becomes someone I love, and I become someone who loves him" — is one of the best summations of marriage in a fallen world in movie history.
In Cinderella Man, Crowe plays Benjamin Braddock, a Depression-era boxer whose loyal wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger), watches with conflicted feelings as her husband mounts a difficult comeback after a brutal losing streak. Unlike most movie boxers, Braddock is decent and self-controlled, with no extracurricular violence or relationship issues. He’s not only Cinderella, he’s Prince Charming, too!
Also new on Blu-ray are a pair of animated fantasies from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The good one is My Neighbor Totoro, one of the gentlest, most delightful animated films ever. The nearly plotless events in the lives of two young sisters moving into a new house are mesmerizing to the youngest viewers and draw adults into a pre-critical world of exploration, eeriness, worry and wonder. The mundane is infused with magic, the magical with matter-of-fact ordinariness. I can’t fully celebrate the film’s virtues here (or mark one or two notes of caution); see my review at DecentFilms.com. The less good one is Howl’s Moving Castle, which is about a mysterious wizard named Howl and a young girl magically transformed into an old woman. Though Miyazaki’s imaginative images don’t fail him, Howl turns out to be dull — an angsty pretty boy who doesn’t know what he wants — and undeserving of the heroine’s love.
Content Advisory: A Beautiful Mind: Intense depiction of paranoid delusions; some crass language and sexual references; fleeting violence, brief gunplay and other menacing scenes; minimal profanity. Mature viewing. Cinderella Man: Much brutal pugilism violence; recurring profanity; mild sensuality; a couple of sleazy taunts. Mature viewing. My Neighbor Totoro: Somewhat stressful family themes; some mildly intimidating imagery; brief sub-Christian spiritual elements. Fine family viewing.