"Perfect Stranger": Viewer deception abounds in this slick, glossy, but unsubstantial urban legend. Halle Berry is a beautiful con artist with some dark secrets. Bruce Willis, as an ultra-successful businessman, is her mark, and her capable assistant is Giovanni Ribisi, who can, while significantly inebriated, do more with covert computer operations than the FBI and CIA put together. A titillating but meaningless thriller, which effectively demonstrates that gorgeous women are accustomed to getting, and getting away with, whatever they want (see Delilah, Judges 16).
"After The Wedding" ("Efter brylluppet"): A low-key Danish production that was a 2007 Oscar nominee for best foreign film. Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is devoted to the destitute children of a struggling orphanage in Bombay. Desperate for financing, he returns to his native Denmark for the first time in over twenty years, to pursue a significant donation from Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), a wealthy entrepreneur, who offers him money in exchange for personal fealty (see The Devil, Luke 4: 6-7). When Jacob is invited to attend the wedding of Jorgen's daughter, the past intrudes indelicately on the present. The persistently close-up camera work is, well, foreign to American audiences, but the story line packs an emotional wallop, even if the end result feels more like soap opera than art house.
"Off The Black": True, Nick Nolte as the aging, disillusioned, dissolute, alcoholic loner is predictable type-casting, but Trevor Morgan makes for an effective foil, as the struggling young man with the underachieving father (Timothy Hutton) and abandoning mother. What appears to be an unlikely pairing of young thug and old curmudgeon becomes redemptive for both. And baseball plays its familiar role as a useful communication tool for halting, imperfect male social interaction.
"Vacancy": Many people don't want to go to a movie in order to be frightened, but this one is genuinely scary, because the monsters appear to be ordinary humans. Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson play a feuding married couple whose car breaks down late at night on an isolated country road, and they wind up in a cheap motel where "you may check out any time you like, but you can never leave" (Eagles, "Hotel California"). A caution to genteel viewers: not only personal violence, but also voyeuristic sadism, prompting a ready exception to the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13).
"Bug": Another remote motel, another intense, dark-side encounter, but this time the proceedings are more masochistic than sadistic. A lonely, grieving unloved woman named Agnes (Ashley Judd) serves drinks in a bar, and goes home to an empty room, where she takes drugs to keep from feeling anything. The only variety in her life is her ex-con ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.) showing up to dish out some abuse and harassment, which she seems powerless to prevent. One night her co-worker and only friend, R.C. (Lynn Collins), introduces her to a tall, quiet, brooding man named Peter (Michael Shannon, who played this part on the stage in the original theater production). Peter's intuition is right in not coming on too strong at first. He tells her that he wants to be her friend. He doesn't seem to mind that she is desperate for intimacy, and she doesn't seem to notice that he's weird. Their symbiotic relationship develops very rapidly, because it's just them and their motel room and the craziness they allow in each other. He succumbs to her emotional seduction, and she becomes a partner in his delusional paranoia. They drive away everyone else, and fuel their psychosexual desire with the high heat of ignited passion: "Try now, we can only lose…and our love become a funeral pyre. C'mon, baby, light my fire" (The Doors, "Light My Fire"). This one is only for the very adventurous moviegoer, but the performances are incendiary.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Have you ever found yourself in a relationship that was mutually self-destructive? How did it end?
2) Have you ever known a very good-looking person who turned out to be not so beautiful on the inside? How did you find out?
3) Have you experienced a sagging relationship being strengthened through fighting a common enemy? Can this be true for whole nations as well as for individuals?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas