By Mark Metcalf Special to Published Aug 16, 2008 at 5:29 AM

Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."

In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with the Milwaukee International Film Festival, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including the comedy Web site,

He also finds time to write about movies for In this week's installment of the Screening Room, Mark looks at "Becoming Jane" and "In Bruges."


Julius and I sat down to watch "Becoming Jane." I was trying to explain to him who Jane Austen was and why it might be important to him to read her at some point. A wee bit insincere on my part, I admitted, since I had never read her myself.

However, I had known so many women who not only read Jane Austen but also doted upon her. They cherished the stories, drew references for their own lives from her characters -- smart, attractive, funny women each with a well-developed sense of irony -- that I suggested he should read her works at least once to be able to hold conversation with these women, if they still exist, and I certainly hope they do.

The propriety, the civilization, the determination of class and the struggle against all that while never departing from it entirely are a staple of English literature and of films about, or taken from, English literature.

And the UK in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, when it was master of the globe -- fat, rich, arrogant, ignorant and living off the sweat and blood of "dirty wogs" in jungles and deserts around the world -- is a wonderfully transparent model for a civilization slouching towards the edge of an abyss while humming a vaguely melancholy tune.

As the American economy drifts over the edge of another abyss, we might well take a good look at the behavior of a people in a similar situation as they, oh so very slowly, tried to ignore and forestall what was recognized by all, in hindsight, to have been inevitable.

But, I am biting off a little more than Jane Austen was trying to chew. Yet again, I haven't read her, so maybe she was dealing with planetary issues, but it always seems as though she was totally focused on matters of the heart and of personal freedom. You could do that in the 18th century. This film about her is purely a romance. Julius says he loves a good love story and he liked it, which I think is somewhat unusual in a 13-year-old.

Anne Hathaway, who must have the largest eyes ever photographed, plays a young Jane Austen and James McAvoy, who is doing all the period pieces these days, plays Tom Lefroy, her lover and apparently the inspiration for most of the romantic leading men in all her novels.

As in so many of these stories, class keeps them apart and I am left thinking that, but for class, perhaps so many of the sisters of Sarah Lawrence, Wellesley, Vassar, Radcliffe and now Brown, Princeton, and Harvard, wouldn't have the independence of Jane Austen as a beacon to grow themselves toward.

It is a charming film, which demands only that you be patient while watching it and enjoy the struggles of an intelligent young woman, many decades ahead of her time.

IN BRUGES (2008)

I was really looking forward to "In Bruges." It was written and directed by an interesting playwright named Martin McDonagh. It opened the Sundance Film Festival. I really liked the trailers I had seen. It seemed very funny.

Even Colin Farrell, who I have maligned before because he thinks he is much cuter than he is, seemed really good in the trailer. Many critics that I like had said good things about it. Therefore, I was looking forward to it.

I was asleep before the end of the first reel. A reel used to be about twenty minutes. In fairness, I had a busy day and my son has taken to falling asleep with his head in my lap while we watch a movie of my choosing. He plans it that way. He thinks he knows he'll be bored by any movie I want to watch so he gets in his pajamas, lies down on the couch, squirms until he's comfortable, and promptly falls asleep.

Usually it's a movie that I have seen before so when he is asleep, I move him into his bed and either finish watching or go write one of these things.

"In Bruges" put us both to sleep. Him sooner than me.

I realized I had not been fair, so I watched it on my own the next night. It turns out that the funniest bits are in the trailer, so the advertising is a little misleading. The trailer really makes you think it's going to be a dark, funny movie. It is not that. Not entirely. It is slow and takes itself seriously for quite awhile. Colin Farrell is funny and Brendan Gleeson plays off him very nicely.

There is a dwarf, or midget, right in the middle of it, and as a friend of mine said, "Haven't we had quite enough of dwarves?" We have, certainly, but the movie is making something of that.

I think it is rubbing our faces in the fact that "we have had quite enough of dwarves." It is also making us breathe deeply of our own intoxication with violent death. How many movies have you seen lately that involve someone's violent death?

There is a moment in this film where one of the characters, after being shot in the leg and the neck, crawls to the top of a tower in the city of Bruges and, as he was crawling, I had a very visceral feeling that I did not under, any circumstances, want to die a violent death. That may seem like an obvious statement.

Nevertheless, we accept shooting deaths, and stabbing deaths, automobile crashes, and beatings so easily in so much of our popular culture; it's funny at some moments, scary at others but it has become a matter of course. At this moment in this film I just felt, more deeply than I have felt in a film in a long time, that I did not want to have anything to do with violence if I had a choice.

That alone makes the film successful for me. As I said, there are some very funny moments. Moreover, the friendship between the two men and how it turns into a friendship from something close to loathing at the beginning is touching.

"In Bruges" was worth a second look. And Bruges itself, the medieval town in Belgium, is well worth a look.



Mark Metcalf Special to

Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."

Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.