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'Amelia' soars once more

Published October 28. 2009 05:00PM

While the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee debates the future of the Space Shuttle and a man on the moon or Mars, the arrival of the movie, Amelia, reminds us that heroes don't look back.

Amelia tells a seemingly unvarnished, not always flattering portrayal, of Amelia Earhart, the Lady Lindy who vanished, if not into thin air, then the deep Pacific while attempting to become the first person to fly around the world.

Earhart's critics said her celebrity outpaced her abilities as pilot and that she was a daredevil who took unnecessary risks. To which, in the often poetic screenplay, Earhart says: Everyone has the ocean to fly, as long as you have the heart to do it.

Amelia, directed by Mia Nair, best known for Salaam Bombay! (1988), Mississippi Masala (1991), Monsoon Wedding (2001), has a lot of heart.

Amelia is not only an inspiration, it's a love story, not only of Earhart's love for flying, but of her love for George Putnam, her backer, publisher and husband, and his dedication to her goals, as well.

Hilary Swank, executive producer of Amelia and one of America's most vaunted actors, has an uncanny resemblance to Earhart. With boyish-cut light brown hair, face full of freckles, and slim frame, Swank catches the spirit of Earhart. Maturity has given Swank's face magnificent definition. She bares her teeth and juts them forward with the self-assurance of a courageous adventuress.

Gere, as Putnam, keeps his actor's bag of tricks in check, for the most part, including his fluttery eyelashes and downturned sardonic mouth. Gere and Swank portray convincing life partners who love, respect and support each other emotionally. Their scenes together are the movie's strongest.

In supporting roles are Ewan McGregor as Gene Vidal, one of the nation's first aviation administrators and father of author Gore Vidal; Cherry Jones as Eleanor Roosevelt; and Christopher Eccleston as Fred Noonan, Earhart's navigator on that fateful flight.

As Earhart, Swank's voiceover brings us close to the aviatrix's innermost thoughts, concerns and dreams. Nair lifts the screenplay's inspiring words from the page to the air with lots of inspirational shots of clouds, land and sea.

The story takes place over approximately 10 years, from Earhart's first transatlantic flight, with highlights of her record-setting flights, to her tragic end at age 40 in 1937 somewhere in the South Pacific.

Amelia successfully evokes the mood of the era, from Earhart's role as a heroine to a Great Depression-weary nation. In this, the movie is an antidote to the Great Recession.

The movie recreates the burgeoning mass media era, when daily newspapers, and later radio and movie theater newsreels, delivered the news and sensationalism that preys on the worst tendencies of human nature. The beautiful shiny planes, the art deco interior design, the women's and men's attire all put you into the mood of the story.

The screenplay by Ron Bass, an Oscar winner for Rainman (1988) who also wrote Entrapment (1999), and Anna Hamilton Phelan, an Oscar nominee for Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and also writer of Girl, Interrupted (1999), is based on two books about Earhart, East to the Dawn by Susan Butler, and The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell.

With Amelia, the Oscar race is on. Look for another nomination for Swank, who previously won two actress Oscars, for Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Boys Don't Cry (1999) several nominations, including director, adapted screenplay, and score (Gabriel Yared, Oscar winner, The English Patient).

Earhart, with the deal-making of Putnam, financed her flights through book deals, product endorsements, a line of luggage and clothing, as aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, investments in airports, and the backing of Purdue University, which, through its fledgling aviation program, funded her Lockheed Electra airplane. Her celebrity made America air-minded.

Will a similar hero, backed by a combination of private enterprise, government guidance and media promotion, come forward to keep American space-minded?

Amelia: MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking; Genre: Biography, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 51 min.; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Credit Readers Anonymous: Filming locations for Amelia included Nova Scotia, Canada.

Box Office, Oct. 28: Paranormal Activity appeared at No. 1, with $22 million, $62.4 million, after five weeks. Amelia opened at No. 11, with $4 million, on only 818 screens, compared to 3,036 for Saw VI, which opened at No.2 with $14.8 million. Where the Wild Things Are dropped from No. 1 to 3, $14.4 million, $53.9 million, two weeks.

4. Law Abiding Citizen, $12.7 million, $40.3 million, two weeks; 5. Couples Retreat, $11 million, $78.2 million, three weeks; 6. Astro Boy, $7 million, opening; 7. The Stepfather, $6.5 miillion, $20.3 million, two weeks; 8. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, $6.3 million, opening, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, $5.6 million, $115.2 million, six weeks; 10. Zombieland, $4.3 million, $67.3 million, four seeks.

Unreel: Opening Oct. 28 is This Is It, the film about the concert that was to star Michael Jackson. Opening Oct. 30 are Gentleman Broncos, bringing director Jared Hess back to his Napoleon Dynamite stomping ground; The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, about the MacManus Brothers return to Boston for revenge; and The House of the Devil, where a college student babysits at a mansion deep in the woods.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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