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Catch a Fire, Flicka


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INFAMOUS Can the box office handle two movies about Truman Capote? Not a chance. That's a shame, because Infamous, being released approximately one year after Capote, compares favorably to its award-laden predecessor and, in at least one regard, it trumps it. Whereas Capote focused almost exclusively on the social raconteur's experiences while writing the true-crime novel In Cold Blood, Infamous offers more scenes showing Truman flitting about the New York social scene. Furthermore, it has more of a sense of humor in sequences that could benefit from them. Toby Jones is quite good as Truman, even if he doesn't provide as many psychological shadings to his portrayal as Philip Seymour Hoffman did in his Oscar-winning turn. And while Sandra Bullock's impression of Capote confidante Harper Lee isn't as memorable as Catherine Keener's work in the earlier film, other performances stand out, particularly Jeff Daniels as the sheriff investigating the farmland slayings and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond) as the more complex of the two murderers. It's just a shame not many people will ever see all this fine work. ***

JESUS CAMP Just in time for Halloween comes Jesus Camp, featuring a monster more frightening than either Jason or Freddy. Her name is Becky Fischer, a Missouri pastor who runs a summer camp in which children are trained to be soldiers for God. That'd be fine if this were an ordinary Christian organization that practiced Jesus' messages of peace, love and tolerance. Instead, it's one more example of the insidious Evangelical movement that's helping destroy the fabric of this nation, as this sobering documentary shows kids being brainwashed at every turn by fanatical adults. Offering the film's lone voice of reason is radio talk show host Mike Papantonio, a devout Christian who, like the rest of us sane believers, is aghast at how these zealots are turning the religion's saintly sentiments into something ugly and brutal (Fischer discusses everything in terms of war and battles, failing to note the similarities between her methods and those of -- what's the popular term these days among Republican parrots? -- Islamofascists). The most surreal scene finds Fischer bringing out a cardboard standup of George W. Bush for the kids to worship -- and one can't help but note with amusement that it seems no less intelligent than the real thing. ***

KEEPING MUM Mary Poppins commits murder most foul in Keeping Mum, a slight but worthwhile comedy that proudly displays its droll British humor at every turn. Rowan Atkinson, toning down his Bean befuddlement just a tad, plays Walter Goodfellow, the vicar of a miniscule English burg as well as the head of a highly dysfunctional family. Walter has become so consumed with his church duties that he has emotionally and physically abandoned his wife Gloria (an excellent Kristen Scott Thomas), who in turns seeks comfort in the arms of an American horndog she employs as her golf instructor (leatherface Patrick Swayze, appropriately sleazy). Their children aren't faring much better, but along comes housekeeper Grace (Maggie Smith) to set things right. Working behind the scenes, she improves everyone's lot in life -- never mind that this seemingly benign lady has to kill a few people in order to foster family unity. Working from a story by American author Richard Russo (Empire Falls), co-scripter and director Niall Johnson manages to wring some poignant moments out of this dicey material without ever betraying its dark comic roots. ***

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND Based on Giles Foden's novel, this employs a fictional character to take us inside the regime of brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada (Forest Whitaker): Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a Scottish doctor who agrees to serve as Amin's personal physician and regrets his decision once Amin's true nature comes to light. The film could conceivably be viewed as yet one more work in which a white man is given center stage in what is primarily a black man's tale, yet a couple of elements set this apart from such pandering works as Cry Freedom and Ghosts of Mississippi. For one, Garrigan (nicely played by McAvoy) isn't the usual bland Caucasian bathed in the light of liberal guilt but a conflicted young man with his own ofttimes prickly personality. And while McAvoy has more screen time, the sheer force of Whitaker's superb performance -- to say nothing of the dynamic character he's playing -- guarantees that he remains the story's central focus even when he's not in front of the camera. Paradoxically, you can't take your eyes off him, even when he's not there. ***


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