In review: 'Becoming Jane' and 'Invasion'

There is something about richly produced period films, such as "Becoming Jane" (or "Sense and Sensibility"), that is engaging, if not curiously compelling. The society of the time, at least according to Austen, followed rules of behavior that were severely decorous, requiring a mannerly restraint that rarely permitted exchanges between men and women that were explicit or honest. In courtship and romance &

and Austen is all about both &

both parties were required to be astute readers of sign, constantly appealing for the translation of a look, an insinuation, or a gesture. All is nuanced, subtle, even mysterious.

Of course, this being a biopic, of sorts, Austen (Anne Hathaway) is, like all of her female protagonists, independent, strong-willed, intelligent, and desirous of standing on her own two feet and living by her pen and not by the good will of a man, which was one of very few options open to women of the 18th century.

In fact, women's choices, or lack of same, is a theme that Austen explores continually. In a conversation with her mother (Julie Walters), who is digging potatoes, the mother explains that not to marry well (or, God forbid, not to marry at all) will doom Jane to a life of scrimping and possible poverty. She has an opportunity to marry for a suitor's fortune and is told that love should not be a primary consideration. Jane, of course, insists that she will do no less than marry for love. And barely having spoken those words, a young Irish lawyer appears on the scene who is attracted to Jane's willfulness and keen mind. Instantly, obstacles begin to present themselves, conspiring to keep their love unrequited.

Some might think of the Austen films, beautifully photographed and richly costumed, as period chick flicks. But actually, they possess substance and an interesting subtext. Though Jane is uncompromising in her life, clearly a rarity, it's easy to imagine how many women of the time embraced lives that were far less than they ever dreamed, fearing that if they did not compromise and secure a match that would at the least support them, they were doomed to lives as second class citizens, objects of pity and even ridicule (the concept of the spinster and old maid come to mind).

Austen's stories are her own very personal rebellion against such an oppressive and decidedly unfair social milieu where women were, in so many ways, a slave class (bartered like so much property for financial security). Beatrice Potter would have found Austen's spirit admirable to be sure.

The Invasion

The old Sci Fi shtick of the alien spore worming its way into the blood stream, or taking up residence in a cavity and using the body as a host is a template often used to great effect. The classic film, "Alien," began with just such a premise and ran with it.

"The Invasion," the second remake of the original film, "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," which was based on the 1956 pulp classic of the same name, uses spores brought back from space by a NASA flight which explodes on reentry. Soon people around the world are coming down with flu-like symptoms (or so the government insists). In reality, the folks who are out and about (recovered, it seems) are, well, strange, robotic, and without affect. Clues are on every street corner as people stand stoically staring straight ahead, yet Carol (Nicole Kidman), a Washington D.C. area psychiatrist, despite her expertise, is ever so slow to notice. Even when one of her clients, a weeping, distraught woman says, "My husband is no longer my husband," Carol's curiosity is not aroused and she writes her a prescription &

a small tranquilizer and no worries.

There's more to the film, of course: chase scenes, Nicole's son, Oliver (Jackson Bond) is in harm's way, lots of running, a long night in a drug store, zombie-like pod-people locked in a storage closet, a jab in the chest with a long needle (Carol must not go to sleep), a Russian with a suspicious accent opining on human nature, more running, subway rides, more subway rides, more running in the subway tube, destruction of vehicles. All for naught.

"The Invasion" flatlines midway, wasting the talents of Kidman and Daniel Craig. If the genre appeals, however, best bet would be to rent the original film which was a stem-winder at the time with a huge creep factor and still has a strong cult following.

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