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I finally got a chance to see “March of the Penguins,” and found it to be even more charming than expected. Cataloguing the mating and spawning habits of penguins in Antarctica, this is an absolutely riveting and intelligent documentary – the penguins take on an almost human quality as they create and take care of their young in stories that can be both heartening and even tragic. I saw it with my 11-year-old daughter, and she had little tears running down her cheeks at one point. I don’t know if she’ll remember it, but I will.

If you’re in the mood for a nifty little thriller, go see “Red Eye.” It is a brisk, tense, 86-minute movie with a simple premise. A hotel manager (the lovely and talented Rachel McAdams) gets on a plane. She’s told by the man (crafty and sinister Cillian Murphy) sitting next to her that if she doesn’t arrange for a government official staying at her hotel to be moved to a room in which he can be more easily assassinated, her father will be brutally murdered. And she has an overnight flight from Dallas to Miami to figure out what to do. Wes Craven directed with Hitchcockian flair. The acting is superb. And you’ll be on the edge of your seat for the whole 86 minutes.

I’m in a minority, but I actually sort of liked “The Brothers Grimm” – probably because it is directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, who has made some of the most idiosyncratic movies of the last two decades. It is a truly weird movie, but it is visually stunning and I was never bored…which is something I can’t say about a lot of movies these days. It made me want to go back and watch “Brazil” and “Time Bandits,” two of his earlier movies that I liked…and to rent “Lost in La Mancha,” a documentary that I’ve never seen about his ill-fated and never-completed film version of “Don Quixote.”

While I was on vacation last week, I watched a stack of DVDs that I’d been meaning to get to…

• “The Long Goodbye,” the 1973 Robert Altman movie based on the Raymond Chandler, starring Elliot Gould as private eye Phillip Marlowe. Weird casting, to be sure, and a movie that looks like everyone who made it was stoned during production. But it is curiously interesting. (I decided to watch it after seeing Bill Murray in the terrific ‘Broken Flowers,” which made me think about “Long Goodbye” for reasons I can’t figure out.)

• “Time After Time” (1979) the Nicholas Meyer movie about HG Wells chasing Jack the Ripper to seventies-era San Francisco using his time machine. It has a great line, when Jack the Ripper, watching violent shows on television, says, “Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I'm an amateur.” Besides, I’ve always had a thing for time travel movies and books. (I keep waiting for someone to make a movie out of Jack Finney’s terrific illustrated novel, “Time and Again.”)

• And, I watched two old John Wayne movies only just released on DVD – “Island in the Sky” (1953) and “The High and the Mighty” (1954). Both movies were directed by the legendary William Wellman, and have airplane themes. In “Island in the Sky,” Wayne plays the pilot of a World War II transport plane that crashes in northern Canada; the movie details how he and his crew survive while rescue efforts are organized and attempted. Shot in black-and-white and absolutely gorgeous, this movie is simply terrific – old fashioned, simply storytelling that is at various moments profoundly gripping.

While “The High and the Mighty” has a better reputation, I didn’t like it quite as much – it seemed just a bit more dated. That said, it is a perfect example of old-style Hollywood moviemaking. Wayne is a pilot again – this time the co-pilot of a plane going from Honolulu to San Francisco. The plane starts to develop engine trouble…top pilot Robert Stack starts to panic…and the audience learns about what makes every crew member and passenger tick. It’s just fun.

More importantly, both movies are a reminder of just how great a movie star John Wayne was. And is. One of my most treasured possessions is a note I got from Wayne when I was in college – I was the movie critic for my college paper, and had written a really positive piece about the elegiac “The Shootist,” which ended up being his final movie. This was the mid-seventies, and there weren’t a lot of college students saying nicer things about Wayne…and somehow, he saw the review and wrote me a note thanking me.

Wayne once said that he wanted his tombstone to read: “Feo, Fuerte, Y Formal,” which translates roughly to “he was ugly, strong and had dignity.” I’ve always sort of liked that…




Here’s my wine recommendation for the week: a Rolling Hills 2001 Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/Ruby Cabernet blend from Australia – which is just spicy enough to serve with a rich tomato sauce with sausage.

Have a good weekend!

Sláinte!!
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