Woody Allen’s great success this year with “Midnight in Paris” has reminded many people of an earlier film where he indulged a touch of fantasy and wish-fulfillment, “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” The time is the 1930s, and Mia Farrow is a waitress with a giant crush on a handsome movie star. Little does she dream that he, in the person of Jeff Daniels, will actually walk off the screen of her neighborhood theater and come into her life. You wouldn’t think a far-fetched idea like this could actually work but Woody makes it happen, with the help of a wonderful cast including Danny Aiello, Dianne Wiest, and Hollywood veteran Van Johnson. But it’s his stars, Farrow and Daniels, who make you want to believe.
“The Constant Gardener” is a potent adaptation of a muckraking political thriller written by that master of the genre, John Le Carré. Ralph Fiennes gives a terrific performance as a mild-mannered, mid-level British diplomat who falls madly in love with a woman, played by Rachel Weisz, who couldn’t be more different than him: she’s a feisty, outspoken political activist who focuses her efforts in Kenya. That’s where she’s murdered, and while officials have their own explanation for what happened, Fiennes isn’t satisfied, and determines to learn the truth—no matter what it takes. Fernando Meirelles directed this uncompromising drama which earned Weisz a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
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You don’t always have to check your brains at the door in order to enjoy a good movie, and these films are proof positive.