Covid-19 continues to hover over our lives. We all cope in our different ways. As readers know, my wife and I have responded to health-caused restrictions by immersing ourselves every evening in watching mostly old movies.
I cannot claim that we are challenging our intellectual capacities. Nor has the pandemic, now seven months-old and still thriving, prescribed strenuous mental exercise. It seems more important to attend to our emotional well-being.
In past columns, I’ve reviewed with decidedly pedestrian skill 12 movies that fascinated me. They were thought-provoking, if not simply wonderfully entertaining.
For this commentary, I will remain fixed on my self-imposed limit of six films reviewed with an imperfect eye and muted criticism. I’ve learned that movies that we have enjoyed have often been scorched by critics.
So what? Critics feast upon flaws that only they might observe and even care about.
Here we go, Spy readers:
“Saving Private Ryan,” starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, is a thoroughly absorbing film that offers an unvarnished view of deadly combat beginning on Omaha Beach during D-Day, June 6, 1944. Hanks’ character, Captain John Miller, becomes an increasingly hard-edged platoon commander dedicated to a questionable mission. This is not an easy movie to watch. It strains your belief in the goodness of war.
An unabashed fan of the peripatetic Robin Williams, I was moved by his portrayal of an unconventional prep school English teacher in “Dead Poets Society,” a film that shakes your faith in hide-bound school administrators and parents who view with trepidation an educator who challenges students to think and act for themselves. I just loved this movie. It reminded me that a good teacher can have a huge influence on his/her students if allowed to use different but effective methods of stirring the minds of sometimes resistant teenagers.
If still disturbed by the physical and material atrocities committed by the Nazi forces during World War II, readers will enjoy the painful story embodied in “Portrait in Gold,” starring Helen Mirren, who never fails to imbue her character with strength and sensitivity. An Austrian Jew who flees Vienna amid the Nazi crackdown and settles in Los Angeles, she becomes obsessed with gaining possession of her aunt’s portrait, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”. This compelling tale succeeds not just because of an incredible actress, but also a tone-perfect performance by Ryan Reynolds and the lovely scenic role played by Vienna.
Few films so inspire and engage me than “The King’s Speech. “ Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, overcame a dominating father, a reckless and irresponsible brother and a debilitating stammer to become a king that helped lead Great Britain during the Nazi blitz and World War II. This movie tells the all-too-human stories of the dysfunctional royal family against a backdrop of political and global chaos. The relationship between the king, known as Bertie, and a commoner who helps him speak more comfortably is almost too good to be true. Colin Firth is exceptional, as exemplified by his Oscar as Best Actor in 2010. The king’s struggles mirror the awesome challenges faced in a wartime Britain.
To erase any perception that my wife and I only enjoy gut-wrenching drama, I must confess that we found “The Proposal”, featuring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, funny and creative. While the film’s conclusion may have been predictable (a constant bugaboo for paid critics), I thought the plot was innovative and the chemistry between Bullock and Reynolds a real plus. The dichotomy between New York City and a beautiful village in Alaska underscored the tension between Bullock and Reynolds. The light touch provided by this romantic comedy was a welcome break from our usual diet of serious films.
Finally, “A Beautiful Mind,” winner of the Best Film in 2001and featuring Russell Crowe, is a must-watch for anyone who appreciates excellent acting, sensitive treatment of mental disease, the demands and competition of an elite education and insight into genius. The fragile thread separating uncommon intellect and emotional stability underscores the true story behind this superb cinema. Direction by Ron Howard nearly guarantees a thoughtful and critically successful movie. Crowe fills the screen with his touching portrayal of a man blessed with a first-rate brain and a vulnerable soul.
If I were to review COVID-19, I regretfully would rate it a smashing success in disturbing our lives and causing unfortunate morbidity. It’s like nothing any of us have experienced. It rules everything we do and don’t do.
A chronic obsession with escapist cinema helps alleviate the stress of coping with a stubborn disease.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.