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‘Love Actually’: the ultimate chick flick

‘Osama’ gives a fascinating look at the Taliban and Afghanistan. By Michael Ventre

‘Love Actually’This is a generalization, so bear with me, but “Love Actually” is the kind of movie that probably had the men fleeing the theater in droves, while the women didn’t notice they were gone because they were too busy dabbing their eyes with tissues.

There is a genre called the Chick Flick, and “Love Actually” fits all the criteria. It’s chock full of wonderfulness. Love is everywhere. Kids are unbearably cute. Women are strong and hopeful. Men are decent and kind, even if they occasionally go astray. There’s singing. There’s hugging. There are gestures of good will. There are people who are flawed who actually work on their flaws and become better people by the closing credits. And it’s all neatly packaged inside one big Christmas present of a movie.

Most of the women I know who saw this loved it. Most of the men I know stayed home and rented “The Dirty Dozen” or “Taxi Driver” that night. It’s a very clear delineation along gender lines.

But since a male is reviewing this DVD, I must lean a hair toward the negative, yet still with an eye toward objectivity. “Love Actually” bills itself as “the ultimate romantic comedy.” Personally, I liked “Jerry Maguire,” “Manhattan” or even “Some Like It Hot” a heck of a lot better.  Perhaps we males can hope that “ultimate” in this case means there won’t be another one like it.

There are some bright spots. The cast is outstanding, headed by Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney and Liam Neeson. The writer-director is Richard Curtis, and while I didn’t appreciate his overt manipulation of audience emotion in the name of love, he does have a talent for the visual that is not always evident when scribes take the leap to the director’s chair.

That said, some of the situations are head-shakingly nauseating, and a little restraint would have made a much better movie.

The bonus features aren’t bad. There are some deleted scenes with introductions by Curtis; an entertaining commentary with Curtis, Grant and others; and a segment called “The Music of ‘Love Actually.’” I could have done without the Kelly Clarkson music video of “The Trouble With Love Is,” but I can’t say I’m surprised they included it here.

Guys, buy some flowers and candy for your ladies and include a copy of “Love Actually.” Then run for your lives before they pop it into the DVD player.

‘Osama’

Needless to say, nobody misses the Taliban, least of all the people of Afghanistan. The horrors of its violently repressive regime were hinted at, and documented by some, but life in that country — especially for women — was tortuous, and most of the world turned a deaf ear.

“Osama” is the first film made in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Based on a true story, it follows a young girl whose mother cuts her hair, alters her attire and passes her off as a boy so she can get work and the family can eat. The picture, directed by Siddiq Barmak, is a harrowing look at the girl’s journey and her attempts to keep her real identity secret.

The narrative is rather simple and straightforward, but the greater impact comes in developing an understanding of the Taliban’s reach, the fear it struck in the people under its rule, and the unrelenting insistence on a severe interpretation of religious doctrine. Americans will watch this and then realize they don’t really have much to complain about.

Another fascinating aspect of “Osama” is that most of the performers are non-actors. Barmak has a great eye for raw talent, and his direction is sure-handed and convincing.

The DVD only has one extra, a featurette entitled, “Sharing Hope and Freedom.” It’s a making-of documentary, and there is a solid amount of interview material with the director, as well as some behind-the-scenes photography. It’s not much, but I suppose the actual filming of “Osama” — coming as it did not long after the Taliban fell, and still in a relatively unstable environment — was so hazardous to begin with that I can’t blame the filmmakers for not having a ton of superfluous footage.

“Osama” isn’t a great movie, but it excels as an eye-opening glimpse at a mysterious and once-impenetrable culture.