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This Week at the Movies

'42' is an enjoyable, if not groundbreaking, Jackie Robinson biopic, while 'To the Wonder' is a visually stunning and experimental new movie from Terrence Malick.

The toughest scene to sit through in Brian Helgeland’s “42” occurs as the legendary Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) steps up to the plate, only to be barraged with racial epithets by Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), the manager for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Helgeland’s film takes some pains to detail the discrimination against Robinson, who, in 1947, became the first black Major League Baseball player.

But, on the whole, the picture aims more to be a rousing sports drama, occasionally relying on clichés and good intentions, rather than delving as deep as Spike Lee or Robert Redford might have done had their planned Jackie Robinson films ever been made.

“42” is entertaining and well-made. Boseman, who is mostly known for his TV work, makes a fine Robinson, giving the baseball giant more than just the standard icon treatment you’d find in most bio movies.

Harrison Ford is fun to watch as team executive Branch Rickey, despite being given some of the screenplay’s sillier lines. And Andre Holland is solid as Wendell Smith, a sports writer who is hired to act as chauffeur for Robinson.

All in all, “42” is a good, rousing entertainment and a decent period piece. It just might not be the Jackie Robinson story you’ve been waiting all these years to see.

Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” is, hands down, the most experimental work in the elusive director’s oeuvre to date. Those who found “The Tree of Life,” which was my favorite film of 2011, too opaque might tear their hair out watching Malick’s latest picture.

While “Wonder” is not as ambitious as “Tree” or “The Thin Red Line” or as majestic as “Days of Heaven,” it’s still a visually gorgeous and thematically sound exploration on the loss of love.

There is very little dialogue in the movie and, in typical Malick fashion, most of its spoken words are done via voiceover. And there is very little in the way of plot in the fragmented film, often leaving the viewer to piece together storylines, which occasionally drop off and, then, suddenly resume.

At the film’s beginning, environmental scientist Neil (Ben Affleck) falls in love with single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko) during a trip to Paris and brings her and her young daughter back to Oklahoma.

But the couple gradually falls out of love and into loneliness, prompting Marina to return to France and, then, later returning and Neil to become romantically entangled with childhood friend Jane (Rachel McAdams).

The third character the film follows is Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest who has been relocated to Oklahoma from Spain and is struggling with his vocation.

Thematically, “To the Wonder” is not one of Malick’s most ambitious films. If “The Tree of Life” explored nothing less than mankind’s place in the universe, “Wonder” is about love and loss.

But the picture deftly parallels the gradual decline of Neil and Marina's relationship and Quintana’s loss of connection to God.

As always, Malick uses beautiful imagery – France’s Mont St. Michel, waves of grain, sunsets and a field full of bison – to remind us of the mystery and majesty of the world around us in which our – often simplistic, often not – struggles play out.

“To the Wonder” might not be for everyone – those who prefer plot and narrative over mood and storytelling through imagery are not the target audience here – but if you allow yourself to be put under its spell, you’ll likely be moved and awed.

“42” is playing at Douglaston’s Movie World and “To the Wonder” is screening at Manhattan’s Sunshine Cinema. It will open at Kew Gardens Cinemas on April 19.

Michael Feiner April 15, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Good review of "42" Nathan. I liked the movie but I'd never give it the ***** that the Daily News did. Yes the baseball scenes were incredible. That was a clone of Jackie Robinson on those basepaths. It was also astounding how they replicated Ebbetts Field although I would have included that iconic billboard sign for Abe Stark's suits which read, "Hit sign, win suit." It also bothered me how poorly Red Barber the Dodger was portrayed. He had one of the most identifiable announcer's voices of all time. That actor just was not Red Barber. Perhaps for other biographical movies I wouldn't be so picky but a good portion of people who go to see this film will be those who lived through that era and it should have been done more accurately done. We notice that sort of thing. Anyway "42" is a good film and worth seeing. It could've been great!
Michael Feiner April 15, 2013 at 10:29 PM
It should have been done more accurately
Phil Konigsberg April 16, 2013 at 09:47 PM
I loved Red Barber as a play-by-play announcer, however, I did not follow baseball until the 1960 World Series, consequently, I only knew of the Big Red Head when he was in the Yankees broadcast booth (along with Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto).

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