I'm Going Home (2001)
Here's a rarity: a film about old age that is neither a celebration nor lament of the achievements or failures of lost youth. Neither is it an anticipation of impending death but simply an unsentimental meditation on the ambiguous present, on aimlessness, isolation and infirmity.
From nonagenarian writer-director Manoel de Oliveira, who's been making movies for more than seven decades, comes a sad, thoughtful character study of an aging French actor named Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli). On stage, in productions of Ionesco's Exit the King and Shakespeare's The Tempest, Valence gives impressive readings of the dramatic final speeches of aged protagonists. But his own words in a key moment of frailty and finality, though equally haunting, are much more prosaic and anticlimactic.
Deliberately paced, lacking narrative momentum, I'm Going Home captures the low-key rhythms of Valence's routine-bound existence in the months after a tragic accident leaves him a widower with an orphaned grandson. But when an American filmmaker (John Malkovich) approaches him to play Buck Mulligan in an adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses, there comes a shattering moment of truth, and what his existence will be after that is unclear both to us and to him.
Content advisory: Brief menace and a crude expression; very mild sexual references (e.g., discussion of scripts calling for bedroom scenes). Teens and up. In French with subtitles and some English.
This week the family classic Babe gets a two-pack DVD release with the dreadful sequel Babe: Pig in the City. Get Babe. Avoid the two-pack and the sequel. (For complete information, see the full reviews at DecentFilms.com.)
More than a fun kid flick with talking animals, Babe is wonderful moviemaking that delights on every level. A triumph of art direction, acting and characterization, special effects, scoring and pacing, it's one of the all-time great family films.
Unlike many talking-animal pictures (e.g., Cats and Dogs), Babe is a movie in which the human leads matter as much as the animals. The Hoggetts (James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski) are both unique and memorable characters and also a splendid couple with a remarkable relationship.
Babe inevitably invites comparisons to another porcine protagonist, Wilbur of Charlotte's Web. Yet it's Wibur who suffers from the comparison. Wilbur is a passive protagonist — a whiner whose main goal in life is not to be eaten and whose main accomplishment is making friends with Charlotte, the crafty spider whose PR “spin” saves Wilbur's bacon.
Babe, by contrast, takes his fate in his own trotters, faces challenges, learns a life skill and contests the mutual prejudices of his barnyard world. He's spunky, personable and polite to everyone. He's some pig.
Content advisory: Some scenes of menace and animal fighting; a single instance of taking the Lord's name in vain.
Don Q Son of Zorro (1925)
The unwieldy title of this sequel to the great 1920 silent swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro may not initially inspire con-fidence — even if, like the original, it does star Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Yet Don Q Son of Zorro, named one of the year's 10 best by The New York Times, actually outdoes its predecessor, with a stronger and more sophisticated plot, better pacing, more interesting and complex characterizations, grander production values and more consistent action.
The first Zorro film was a proto-superhero Western, with a lone champion bringing justice to a lawless jurisdiction. Don Q, set in Spain, more resembles Dumas' continental swashbucklers, with palace intrigues, international diplomatic complications, duels over accidental affronts, public-house ambushes and a canvas of decades and continents.
Fairbanks has dual roles, donning makeup to play the now-older Don Diego while also starring as Diego's son Don Cesar. The climax, a rousing battle sequence reuniting father and son against an army of adversaries, is more thrilling and larger in scope than anything in the original. While lacking the original's moral and religious themes, Don Q is rousing entertainment. Both films are available together on one DVD or separately on VHS.
Content advisory: Action violence including much swordplay; fleeting recommendation of suicide as an honorable alternative to execution; brief threatened torture (or worse) as a means of coercing cooperation from a villain.