By G. Michael Dobbs
This week's DVD column features a fun summer-time movie, a puzzling artifact and a compelling foreign film.
My wife is a rabid mystery fan and she reads a lot. She also has one pretty ironclad rule: if she has read the book, she is not inclined to see the movie.
However, she wanted to see the screen adaptation of Janet Evanovich's "One for the Money," the first novel featuring the character of Stephanie Plum, a lingerie saleswoman turned bounty hunter.
Since the film stars one of my favorite actresses, Katherine Heigl, I was certainly eager to watch it with her.
The result was a funny and fast-moving mystery film, which is perfect summer fare. It's no classic, but it's substantial enough not to be just a time waster.
Heigl's Plum knows enough to understand she's in over her head as a bounty hunter, but is desperate enough to carry on. She's recently divorced and unemployed and really wants to prove herself.
Director Julie Anne Robinson has done a lot of television, but she does well with this feature film. How could I not like a director who gives Debbie Reynolds another opportunity to appear on screen?
And did my wife like it? Amazingly enough, the film passed her "I read the book first test" and she enjoyed it.
I think you will as well.
I did not get the opportunity to see the remake of this Israeli film starring Helen Mirren, so I can't say if the more recent version was better than the original.
I can say, though, the first film was a quiet but taut thriller dealing with a universal theme on the human condition: how can someone live with a lie.
In 1964, three Mossad agents are in Berlin, Germany, attempting to capture a notorious Nazi war criminal. They are successful in grabbing him, but before they can leave for Israel with him, he escapes.
The three agents decide to lie and say they were forced to kill him, figuring the Nazi will never re-surface. Thirty years later, there is a news story from Ukraine that the "The Surgeon of Birkenau" is alive and well.
One agent in particular, Rachel (played by Gila Almagor in the present) is very worried about the disclosure that her story of bravery was actually a lie.
She is contacted by one of the other two agents, who has set up a trip to Ukraine for them to seek and kill the surgeon.
In the hands of first time feature film director Assaf Bernstein, this story is told in a deliberate way to emphasize the human pain involved, rather than spy thrills. It's a solid approach that I enjoyed.
If you're in the mood for something a little different, place "The Debt" in your Netflix queue.
There are many times that I do not understand why a particular performer is popular. When I was a teenager and immersing myself in as many films of the 1930s and 40s as I could find, I kept reading how Al Jolson was the greatest entertainer of his day. Yet when I saw Jolson on film, he left me cold. What was the big deal?
I have to admit the same for Carol Channing. In the 1960s and 70s, she was a constant on television and I couldn't tell if her singing was supposed to be serious or funny or if she was beautiful or some sort of caricature.
She is known primarily for two roles on Broadway "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" and "Hello Dolly" and I watched this clearly loving documentary to see exactly what I have been missing.
I didn't get my answers.
Channing is apparently beloved by her casts and crew, and at age 91 is still occasionally performing.
The film is pretty complete in explaining her life and career, although it minimizes Channing's disappointment in not playing Dolly Levi for the filmed adaptation of her Broadway hit, which I would think would be a major issue in her career. Nor does the film mention the fact that Channing's son is the award-winning political cartoonist Chan Lowe. He is not interviewed on camera.
So, if you're a fan, then this film is going to be a treat. If you're like me, then Channing's appeal is still elusive.
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