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They just don’t make ’em like they used to. The proof of that is on display right now at Market Street Cinema, in the form of a newly re-mastered version of the 1964 classic “Becket.” Just the kind of clever, intelligent, character-driven history piece that doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting made in this day and age, the revival of “Becket” is a fitting tribute to some of Hollywood’s greatest actors.
The great Peter O’Toole (recently shut out for what may very well be his final attempt at a much-deserved Oscar) plays King Henry II of England. Something of a power-hungry leader, in the12th century Henry II sought to usurp a chunk of the power wielded by the almighty church. To that end, Henry tries to pull a power grab by installing a man who he thinks will prove an ally in the very powerful position of Archbishop of Canterbury: Thomas a’ Becket (Richard Burton).
The problem is, though Becket was reluctant to take the job, once in, he refuses to be the puppet of his old friend and king. This leads to a series of exquisitely played scenes in which the two spar over the balance of power between church and state.
Based on the stage play by Jean Anouilh, “Becket” was nominated for 12 Oscars (including one of O’Toole’s many nominations for acting), though it took home only Best Adapted Screenplay.
Some of the scenes between O’Toole and Burton sort of leave you wondering what the Academy could have been thinking. Not to gush, but this is a film that will leave any fan of great acting breathless. Full of rousing verbal duels between the power-hungry king and his duty-bound archbishop, it’s enough to put even the best of our modern actors in their places. (And speaking of modern: Modern audiences may have a hard time dismissing the clear homoeroticism involved in some of the scenes between Becket and Henry. Add a few sheep and some skin-to-skin contact, and you’d nearly have “Brokeback Castle.”)
In short, this is a beautiful piece of cinema, one much deserving of a revival. If you’re a fan of film, don’t miss this one.
Let it ‘Reign’
While we all tend to worry about the inevitable run of bad luck, none of us wants to end up one of those poor saps who God or fate seems to randomly choose from time to time for a thorough crushing out in the great cosmic ashtray. Imagine, for instance, your whole family wiped out in the space of five seconds. How could you go on? Who would want to?
That’s the question asked in the fine new film “Reign Over Me,” which opens locally on Friday. A profound and moving film about grief, mental illness and the seemingly infinite boundaries of true friendship, “Reign” is a about how hard it is to keep on keeping on, especially when it seems the universe has turned against you.
Oscar winner Don Cheadle plays Dr. Alan Johnson, a New York cosmetic dentist trying to rough out the early days of a new practice. Johnson feels increasingly smothered by his work and isolated from his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and his children.
Sitting in traffic one day, Johnson sees an old friend, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). As ex-dental school roommates, Johnson and Fineman were brother-close until Sept. 11, 2001, when Fineman’s wife and two daughters were killed on board one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center. After reconnecting with the now-mentally disturbed and often-explosive Charlie, Johnson finds that Fineman is living a life of solitary desperation. Flush with cash from government and insurance payouts, Fineman’s entire life has shrunk to the size of his apartment, where his sole pursuits are his vast album collection, playing a bizarre giant-slaying video game on a theatre-sized screen, and compulsively remodeling his kitchen — the last thing his wife requested he do before she was killed.
As Johnson gets closer to his old friend, he seeks the help of Angela (Liv Tyler), a young psychiatrist who works in his building. Together, with the help of Charlie’s mother and father-in-law (Melinda Dillon and Robert Klein), his accountant Sugarman (writer/director Mike Binder), and a sex-obsessed former stalker of Johnson’s (Saffron Burrows), Johnson tries to turn Charlie’s eyes from the abyss he has been staring into for almost six years.
Though some of the subplots in “Reign” could have been easily lost in the name of making it a shorter, more streamlined film, for the most part this is a real piece of cinema. I mentioned the glimmer of Sandler as a dramatic actor in last year’s hit “Click,” but was genuinely surprised by his skill here in a wholly dramatic role. Cheadle, of course, is excellent as Johnson, completely selling the idea of the dentist seeking something more from his life — not to mention the fact that Johnson helps Charlie in part because of some kind of guilt that his own life is seemingly going so well.
While not the feel-good movie of the year, “Reign” does have a lot going for it — namely, great performances, an interesting plot, and an almost indie-movie sensibility. As in the real world, nobody here gets “fixed” by a teary revelation. Still, if you’re interested in a passionately emotional, genuine and well-acted film, check it out.