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Movie Reviews And Cub News

OK, so I wasn't the first to report the Sammy-to-the-Marlins rumor; it shows up here and here in the last couple of weeks.

I consider my source impeccable, and since the Mets talks, as mentioned here last Thursday, may be breaking down, maybe the Marlins deal is being revisited, and though Castillo and Encarnacion aren't great players, they would fill needs, and by the "addition by subtraction" theory, this may allow the Cubs to sign Carlos Beltran.

This is movie-screening time of year, and I saw two pre-release screenings and paid to take my son to a third this past weekend, and I'll start with the latter, since it's the one burning up the boxoffice, taking in $33 million on the holiday weekend.

"National Treasure"

Here's what you get when you ask a nine-year-old who you take to a movie like this, what he thinks of it:

"It was good."

OK, so my son is nine, and maybe he doesn't have a career ahead of him as a movie critic.

This movie is rated PG, and I don't think it's inappropriate, age-wise, for nine-year-olds; in fact, we ran into one of his classmates there and there were other similar-aged kids at the Saturday afternoon showing. There's no nudity or bad language, just a few car crashes, fires and explosions.

The plot seems ripped off from "The DaVinci Code", the Dan Brown novel, but this film has been in development since 1999, before "Code" was written. "Code", in fact, is now in production as a film, with Tom Hanks cast as the lead, Professor Robert Langdon, and when I was reading the novel I thought Hanks would be perfect in that role, so kudos to the producers for that bit of casting.

Now, if they'd just cast Diane Kruger as the young French woman who helps Langdon in the DaVinci quest, the movie will be all set.

I mention Kruger because she seems wildly miscast in "Treasure" as Dr. Abigail Chase, a higher-up at the National Archives, and she tries real hard to hide her native German accent, but it never really works. She is nice eye candy, though.

The story is preposterous, but you watch it and buy it, up to a point, mainly because of Nicolas Cage, whose look of perpetual surprise works here by telling us, "Hey look, I know how stupid this is and YOU know how stupid this is, but let's have some fun doing it anyway, OK?"

There's some neat technology and some cool chase scenes, and as such, it's decent mindless entertainment for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

AYRating: ** 1/2

"Closer"

Still haven't figured out how to pronounce the name of this film. Is it "closer" as in "more proximate to"? Or "closer" as in "What LaTroy Hawkins Was Not For The 2004 Cubs"?

If you figure this out let me know.

This movie is based on a stage play of the same name, and revolves around four characters:

Alice (Natalie Portman) is a self-described "waif" who has worked as a stripper.
Dan (Jude Law) is an aspiring novelist who makes a living writing newspaper obituaries.
Anna (Julia Roberts) is a high-end photographer who, as the movie starts, is coming out of a bitter divorce.
Larry (Clive Owen) is a dermatologist (Owen played Dan in the London stage version, interestingly).

These are four seriously screwed-up people. As the movie opens, Alice is being run over by a car, saved by Dan. She has punked-out purple hair. They exchange platitudes and somehow find themselves attracted to each other.

Then Dan meets Anna, who is photographing him for his book. He kisses her just before Alice, by then his lover, comes into the room. Later Dan, in a weird way, gets Anna to meet Larry, who he doesn't even know. (I won't spoil this, it's delicious.)

I really can't tell you more without spoiling the whole thing, so I won't. Suffice to say it's about relationships and betrayals and how regular, ordinary people deal with them. The characters seem real, probably because they are so flawed.

There's lots of sex talk and bad language, but oddly, no full nudity, though scenes were originally shot with Portman nude. Mike Nichols, the director, apparently took a fatherly interest in Portman and edited all the nude scenes out. The movie, if anything, is better as a result.

AYRating: *** 1/2

"The Aviator"

Here's how much of a preview screening this was: at the end, after the opening titles (and doesn't that drive you nuts? You see a whole movie and THEN you see who's in it? I wish film directors would put at least the producers, cast, director at the beginning. Anyway.) -- the screen said "END CREDITS TO FOLLOW" and then abruptly ended. Guess they hadn't finished them, and this movie won't open in most of the country till January.

Go see it when it does. Most Americans are familiar with the story of Howard Hughes, who made a fortune in oil in the early 1920's, then went to Hollywood to try to become a movie producer (he did have some success, and this film opens with his production of "Hell's Angels", widely panned at the time, now revered as a classic) and then his forays into aviation, and finally, his descent into insanity.

The film ends right after World War II, because after that, Hughes did give in to his madness, and spent most of his last years holed up in a hotel room in Las Vegas, naked and with his beard and hair and fingernails grown long.

This movie shows hints of that, and though you might not think the very-recognizable Leonardo DiCaprio could pull this off, he does so, particularly by the end, when he's made up as a near-dead ringer for Hughes.

The movie shows his long-time relationship with Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett, who's terrific), and implies that they did love each other, but Hepburn couldn't put up with his womanizing and eccentricities. The womanizing is somewhat glossed over, though he pulls the same sorts of things on Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale).

Reasons are given for why he might have descended into madness, as we see a couple of really effective scenes in men's public washrooms, of all places, and we also see how he battled to keep his TWA competitive with the main other airline of the time, Pan American. Alan Alda as a US Senator holding hearings on Hughes' alleged WW II wrongdoing, and Alec Baldwin as Juan Trippe, head of Pan Am, are good as the "evil" men in this film. Baldwin, in fact, is starting to make quite a career for himself as the bad guy ("The Cooler").

This is a lively, well-photographed, richly colored film, with great period music, and one of the most realistically photographed plane-crash sequences I have ever seen. And you'll die to see Gwen Stefani of the band "No Doubt" as Jean Harlow.

Yes, Jude Law's in this movie too, in a brief appearance as Errol Flynn. Law's not in every movie released this holiday season, it just seems that way.

This film is in the traditional "limited release" on December 17, and should be everywhere in early January. There will be many Oscar nominations, including possibly Best Picture. It's long (two hours, fifty minutes), but well worth your time.

AYRating: ****