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Three films:
Reviewed by Helen Meservey

I’ve recently seen three movies I can recommend , and two of them will probably leave town soon, so, if you want to catch them on the big screen, see them this week. They are: "Pieces Of April" and "The Weather Underground".

"Pieces Of April" is a small film about a dysfunctional family. All the action takes place in about five or six hours on Thanksgiving Day. The film is shot with a digital camera, which gives it an appropriate home movie feel. That effect is echoed by the still camera one of the characters totes around and uses frequently. Each snapped shot temporarily freezes a frame, and serves as a sometimes not-so-subtle reminder that this particular family gathering had best be preserved for posterity.

The wonderful Patricia Clarkson is getting a lot of work these days. Here she plays very good reason why almost everyone in the family is hoping for a reconciliation. It’s a simple story made palatable by a bevy of quirky characters who traverse a script balanced with humor and pathos. "Pieces Of April" deserves a larger piece of the movie-going audience than it will probably earn. It’s smart and funny and well acted. And easy to recommend.

"The Weather Underground" is a reminiscence. It’s a sympathetic portrait of a handful of young white radicals who successfully eluded the best efforts of the FBI to apprehend them. They plotted and carried out a series of symbolic bombings, in which, apparently, no one was injured. They operated in the late sixties and early seventies and were never caught. But after the war in Vietnam ended and the seventies drew to a close, most of them surrendered. Ironically, because the FBI violated so many laws in its feckless pursuit of the Weathermen, only a few served time in jail.

The filmmakers blend newsreel footage of speeches, anti-war rallies, and some of the most horrific moments of the Vietnam War with reflective commentary by the protagonists as they are now. One owns a bar in New York City. One teaches math at a community college in New Mexico. Others are engaged in legal social activism. The one critical observer included in the documentary, Todd Gitlin, former President of Students For A Democratic Society, (a group from which the Weathermen defected), comes off as petulant and carping, his frustration with the Weathermen still evident.

While I like this film and recommend it to you, my own views are closer to Gitlin’s than to the subjects of the documentary. But few, at least in Santa Cruz, who remember the nightly tv news coverage of the war in Vietnam will fail to understand what motivated the Weather Underground. For the war footage alone, this documentary should be required viewing for all of us.

The third film I want to recommend won’t open until this weekend. And I don’t want to say much about it. Almost every frame should be savored and experienced with fresh eyes, unmitigated by a critics’ intervention.

"In America" is that rarest of movies, the one you wait months and months and maybe years for. You see a handful of good movies during the course of a year of watching, but inevitably you begin to wonder if ever again someone will make a great movie. I think this one is it. Great actors, including two children you’ll never forget, great writing, and a humanity that will leave few viewers untouched makes "In America" the best film of the year. There’s wisdom in the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book: Wherever You Go, There You Are. It’s a wisdom hard won by the lead character in "In America". Don’t miss it.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.