Knight at the Movies Archives
Add 1 blockbuster for kids of all ages, 1 terrific indie, 1 thrilling foreign film, and 1 heartbreaking documentary and get 4
exceptional movie going experiences
After years of watching the long lines cue up for their 20 minute 3-D “A Bug’s Life” attraction, it only seems natural that the folks at
Disney would expand this guaranteed crowd pleasing special effect to their feature film division. The story they’ve selected is the
perfect medium for this leap into the future. Meet the Robinsons is an expanded version of the William Joyce children’s picture
book, “A Day with Wilbur Robinson,” in which a little boy meets an eccentric, You Can’t Take It With You type family and learns that it's
wonderful to be different.
The film version reinvents Lewis as an orphan, a spiked hair brainiac with glasses (he’s an animated dead ringer for Jonathan
Lipnicki, the kid from Jerry Maguire) who can’t stop making crazy inventions to impress potential parents (shown in montage to a
peppy tune by Rufus Wainwright). After a disastrous day at the Science Fair, Lewis meets Wilbur who warns him about the evil Bowler
Hat Guy who realizes Lewis’ genius and wants to steal his inventions. Wilbur, via a time machine, whisks Lewis into the future where
the buildings look like a cross between the Jetsons, Spanish architect Gaudi, and 30s Art Deco (Disney’s Space Mountain is also
glimpsed). Wilbur introduces his large, wacky, most easily sorted by their particular eccentricity family, to Lewis. Naturally, Bowler
Hat Guy has followed them into the future to further the plot.
The zippy, hot color palette of the movie, retro influenced design of the characters and their surroundings, along with Danny Elfman’s
bouncy music score, are perfectly matched by the light as air story and pacing (the theme of the film, “Keep Moving Forward” is
perfectly realized). Like The Incredibles, the movie’s tongue-in-cheek script offers plenty for both the adults and kiddies and the 3-D
effects are appropriately dazzling. Though the film’s also being screened in theatres without the 3-D effect, expect to wear the
cumbersome dark glasses for pretty much every animated film from here on out as this is one gimmick that’s going to add zillions
to the Disney coffers and be imitated by every other animation studio in Hollywood.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with his permanent pout specializes in mixed up loners. He was amazing as the gay hustler in Mysterious Skin
and convincing as the de facto high school detective in last year’s Brick. Now he adds the emotionally damaged Chris Pratt to his
roster. This is in The Lookout, the first film directed by screenwriter Scott Frank (Little Man Tate, Get Shorty, Minority Report, etc.).
Chris is a onetime popular high school hockey player from Kansas City whose life fell apart after a tragic car accident. Chris has
been permanently damaged emotionally and physically – he has memory problems and like Guy Pearce’s detective in Memento,
needs to label items and keep a notebook at hand that helps keep him on track. Chris is distant from his wealthy but unresponsive
family and only seems to have one real friend. That is Lewis (Jeff Daniels), his ever chipper roommate who is blind. Chris works as
a night janitor at a small town bank; doesn’t have much of a social life, and the frustration and nightmares over his accident are
getting worse (appropriately the majority of the film is shot at night or in darkened rooms which heightens Chris’ emotional
One fateful night while having a drink at a smoky bar Chris meets Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a good looking charmer who has a
way with the ladies and a lot of friends. Soon Chris is hanging out with Gary and company at a farmhouse and pairing up with one of
the girls. But Gary’s easy manner is a cover for his real intentions: he intends to rob the bank where Chris works and needs him to
be a lookout. Will Chris turn his back on his new friends and his old way of life once and for all or Do the Right Thing? Though
Frank’s script has plenty of twists and the outcome isn’t really ever in doubt he writes richly detailed characters that offer his actors
plenty of stretching room.
The film is filled with great performances – with Gordon-Levitt getting top honors, Daniels just right as the upbeat roommate, Isla
Fisher sexy and rueful as the girlfriend/bait, Bruce McGill as the stern father, and especially Goode as the seedy but electrifying and
hard as iron Gary. Goode, a poor man’s Hugh Grant up to now (the lesbian comedy Imagine Me & You, Match Point) should see a
whole raft of new scripts come his way after this complete about face. Frank’s debut is an entertaining, emotionally satisfying little
thriller, a nice variation on the typical bank heist movie.
The Page Turner, a marvelously tricky French film directed and co-written by Denis Dercourt is a sophisticated story of revenge,
albeit a very subtle one. The film begins with the quietly determined 10 year-old Melanie (Julie Richalet), the daughter of a butcher
who is gifted enough at the piano to audition for a coveted spot at a prestigious music conservatory. But during the audition Ariane
Fouchécourt (Catherine Frot), a famed concert pianist and the president of the jury distracts Melanie when she thoughtlessly signs an
autograph. Knowing that she’s failed, Melanie firmly gives up her aspirations without another word.
Cut to ten years later where the now grown Melanie (Deborah Francois) is interning in a law office. For reasons not immediately
clear, she accepts a position as a nanny to the little boy of one of the lawyers (Pascal Greggory). It turns out that the lawyer’s wife is
the thoughtless Ariane. But as her husband confides, Ariane, after a bad car crash, has lost her confidence and now has terrible
stage fright. Slowly the enigmatic Melanie insinuates herself into the life of Ariane, becoming her trusted page turner over the
objections of the other members of Ariane’s chamber music trio. As the odd relationship between the two women (with its strong
lesbian undercurrent) and Melanie’s with the little boy progresses, it dawns that Melanie, a blonde, shapely beauty of few words with
a Mona Lisa smile is working out an exactingly detailed revenge. When her plan becomes clear as the film draws to its conclusion it
leaves one breathless with its brilliant emotional cruelty.
The Page Turner is an enigmatic, psychological thriller, an ingenious character study that resonates long after the last chord from the
sumptuous classical piano pieces it features has faded. In French with subtitles.
Freeheld, a 40 minute documentary that’s playing March 31st and April 1st at the Chopin Theatre (1543 W. Division Avenue) as
part of the Chicago International Documentary Festival also resonates long after it’s over but for very different reasons. This heart
wrenching, compelling documentary by Cynthia Wade chronicles the battle over the pension benefits of Laurel Hester, a police
lieutenant with 25 years on the force who is dying of lung cancer. Hester wants to leave the pension to her partner Stacie Andree so
Andree can hang on to their home which she’ll otherwise lose but the New Jersey county officials – or “Freeholders” – a group of men
where the couple reside have voted to deny the benefits to Andree citing the usual malarkey as the reasons.
Wade’s film picks up as Laurel and Stacie are engaged in trying to change the vote of the Freeholders during an appeals process.
We are given an overview of the couple’s life together and Hester’s exemplary history as a police officer is told by herself and
friends. Wade is given intimate access to the couple’s life as they are subjected with both a terminal illness and the outrageous
injustice. But Wade doesn’t manipulate or try to manage the footage and lets the subjects speak for themselves (it’s a beautifully
paced movie told with economy and a minimum of fuss). This proves to be a wise decision as there are moments when the mixture
of frustration and sadness the film elicits threaten to overwhelm.
When Hester is finally obligated one more time to appear before the Freeholders, who have refused to buckle to the statewide
pressure that has rained down upon them over their heartless, baseless decision, MY heart broke (and yours will to) at the sight of
the terminally ill, gasping for breath Hester who literally is still made to waste precious time battling over what should be a non-
issue. Freeheld is the kind of documentary that incites audiences to sob and then take to the streets in protest. A galvanizing
Meet the Robinsons-The Lookout-The Page Turner-Freeheld
Expanded Edition of the 3-27-07 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.