Reviews written by registered user
|4 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What is bravery? Is it trying to do the right thing while facing death
in the process? What is patriotism? Is it selflessly giving to your
country your services and possibly your life to protect and idea? What
is honor? Is it following through on your responsibilities to others
who depend on you? In today's United States Army, these questions
aren't merely hypothetical, but the basis of character. Kimberly Pierce
understood this when she made her sophomore film Stop-Loss, which is
extremely likely to be my favorite film of 2008.
Stop-Loss tells the story of a group of soldiers from Texas who are coming home from Iraq. Just before they see stateside, they encounter an ambush that kills three of their respected brothers. The squad leader Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) feels responsible for the deaths. He intends to leave the service for good when he gets back along with his best friend (Channing Tatum). This is good news to Brandon's family; his father (the great Cirian Hinds) was a vet from Vietnam. This is also good news for his friend's fiancé (Abbie Cornish), whose love only shadows her loneliness.
But when Brandon turns in his gear and paperwork, he is told that he's to ship back out to Iraq on a stop-loss, which he instantly contests with his superior (Timothy Olyphant). The result has Brandon on the run as he goes AWOL to find a way out of going. He is aided by his friend's fiancé; he decides his best chance is to convince a local senator in Washington to help him. Along the way, he gets a tour of conscience. He meets the family of one of his dead men, whose brother knows about people who could get soldiers through to Canada. He also goes to see another of his comrades (Victor Russak), who was severely wounded in the conflict. And at the end, Brandon must make one of the hardest decisions that anyone will ever have to face.
Love it or hate it, this film has be one of the most unusual films dealing with war. It neither sides for the conflict in Iraq or against it, finding the argument to be beside the point. No doubt that Brandon does say something unflattering about his Commander-in-Chief in one scene, but the film makes it's bravest decision in being pro-soldier from beginning to end. We like these guys, we honor their dedication to our country and we only want them to find happiness and safety back home. But we can tell nearly from the start that coming home isn't going to be easy when tensions flare up in unpredictable ways. One of the men (played flawlessly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) seems to need violence in order to feel normal. The film doesn't hate him for it, nor do we since we know that, in the words of another great movie, he had "a bad war".
There is something to be said about the decisions made in this film. In lesser movies, Brandon's decision would be more clear-cut depending on the filmmaker's political views. There would be some who call Brandon's plight cowardice and the film addresses this by allowing Brandon to have more than a couple of emotions. He's not afraid to fight or to die, but has a more interesting reason to resist. And the film doesn't see any easy answer in the options left to him. We see the life of another AWOL soldier up-close. There's nothing pretty about that.
A lot of the success of the film has to go to the amazing casting of the film. I have never been much of a fan for Ryan Phillippe), but he might have just converted me. This is an amazing performance of such complexity and earnestness that I was left truly amazed. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been a rising independent superstar, completely washing away his child actor days in films that are challenging, playing parts that require his brand of smooth ferocity. This character is important even though he does little for the plot by being a tragic figure. I believe he might see his first nomination for this role. But my favorite performance may also be the most worthy of the Oscar this year: Abbie Cornish. Cornish isn't just throwing diamonds as a young woman in love with an impossible man.
Stop-Loss might just be the best military film since Platoon that deals with soldiers as individuals and not part of a strategy board. Kimberly Pierce, whose first and only other film was Boys Don't Cry, sees soldiers in a way that other filmmakers haven't (and those filmmakers are almost exclusively male, a few veterans themselves). She declares that she had documented hundreds of interviews with soldiers. This is one of the extremely rare cases that fiction proves to be the better format over documentary. In making this a fictional tale, she can tell a broader story and accompany the emotional journey of all her characters. She did this with her first film, which told the sad story of Brandon Teena. I didn't think that she could have made a better film than that. She has proved that she could and has.
All in all, I love this film and cannot recommend this to enough people. It's going to be attacked unfairly by the pro-war crowd who either feel that the film encourages wrong behaviors or weakening morale. In fact, I think that the film shows the real indomitable spirit of the fighting men with honor. But I also find that those who attack movies like these usually think that the best way to support the troops is to keep them in harms way. Stop-Loss isn't a cry to "cut and run". It's a testament that soldiers will remain honorable no matter how they come home. Something that John McCain might keep in mind
It amazes me just how ingenious the men and women of Pixar can be with
the trickiest of material. Every film made is both a technical marvel
and a festival of fun, the perfect marriage of art and entertainment.
And just when you think they've bitten off more than they can chew,
they introduce Ratatouille (pronounced Rat-a-too-ee), their most
ambitions and most delicious film yet. Directed by Brad Bird (The
Incredibles), the film not only exceeds expectations, but also raises
the ante for all animated films period.
The bottom line on this film is this; Ratatouille is a masterpiece. It perfectly maintains both the fairy tale and the reality of the situation all the way its satisfactory ending. Yes, Remy can walk upright, use his front paws to cook (and he does wash up before touching the food), but he also has to maneuver around the health inspector who wouldn't appreciate a rat chef, no matter how clean he his. The characters are multi-dimensional, exciting, and intriguing. The film is fearless to do thing that other animated films are afraid to do, such as putting such complex themes into what most people would consider to be a kid's movie.
On the technical side, this has to be one of the most beautiful animated features made, ranking beside Finding Nemo. The colors are warm and alive. The digital sets are scaled very well. This is important since size plays a major factor. We will have to see the same things in the kitchen from both a rat and human perspective. And for the first time, water effects look natural, especially with characters that are covered in fur.
Normally voice acting is usually noticed because of the huge celebrities involved. After the lazy voice acting in the latest Shrek movie, I was hesitant. But the voice talents here are not well-known people, but they were the perfect choices. Patton Oswalt is amazing as Remy, making him both funny and vulnerable. Peter O'Toole oozes with evil delight as Anton Ego, but is also shows the soft side of a hard critic. Ian Holm rarely gets attention for his range in voice acting, but with Skinner he does wonders. But when it comes to great voice acting, I have to talk about Janeane Garofalo, whom I didn't even recognize her voice at any time. And yet she gives Colette a razor-sharp wit and resiliency that is very much a part of her own personality.
All in all, this is one of the best films of 2007, if not the best. I can't think of a better summer movie for the whole family. But go hungry, you might find yourself wanting something French afterwards, and I hardly think it will be fries.
After having seen the pilot episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, I
am left with a sudden sense of excitement for the series to begin. The
show hits the gate hard as a veteran executive producer of a late night
comedy show (Judd Hirsch) goes on a verbal assault on live television,
a moment straight out of Network (which the news media quickly catches
onto). The studio is in complete disarray only minutes after the show
ends, especially since the network's new president (Amanda Peet) as
only been on the job for one day. How can they repair the damage done?
Why not call in the two men who made the show a hit (Matthew Perry and
Bradley Whitford), and have since been fired two years prior. But
things aren't going to be so easy to fix since there are execs just
waiting to shred all three of them to pieces.
The show is pure Aaron Sorkin: it's witty, intelligent, and heart-felt about issues. It's also a blast to watch as a cast of incredibly talented actors and actresses work together to make Sorkin's words shine. But one thing Studio 60 isn't is a retread of either Sports Night or The West Wing. It's a completely different monster. This time, Sorkin's looking to dive deep into the worlds of Hollywood, Mass Media, and Big Business. With Perry and Whitford, we have televisions new odd couple, both incredibly funny both alone and together. Peet brings her A-game with her as she takes on her most ambitious part yet. And let's not forget some great contributions by D.L. Hughley, Timothy Busfield and Steven Webber. And this is coming straight from the pilot. Who knows where the show will go from here. But I know where I'm going to be on Monday nights.
There's so much I want to say about Steven Spielberg's Munich. So much
that needs to be said about what the film that he has made. This film
that wraps up thousands of years of debate on morality and idealism,
layers it with historical reference and atmosphere, and throws on a
cautionary tale only to find that there's still more to this film that
what meets the eye. I think of Munich not so much like an onion, but a
head of cabbage (soft thriller on top but tougher, more bitter moral
questions underneath). By the time that we see the final shot, I
realize what exactly it is that Spielberg is trying to say.
Munich starts off with the daring heist of the Olympic Village by a terrorist cell of Black September during the 1972 Games. These are not the hard-headed terrorists that we're used to seeing in movies, but kids who are scared but believe they are doing something for "the greater good". The film jumps forward in sprinter's bounds through the next few days as we see the media frenzy, the family reactions, and the officials trying to cope with what is going on. Then it is over, the 11 athletes are killed with Jim McKay's epic words "They're gone" bringing the pain home.
But the film is interested in the aftermath of tragedy as the gears in Israel shift into reciprocity. "Forget peace for now." Golda Meir says to her advisers. They need to show strength, but can't do so with their hands full of blood. That's where men like Avner (Eric Bana) come in handy. He leaves behind his pregnant wife and family to join a secret operation to hunt down 11 "targets" that had a hand in orchestrating Munich. He has a team of four others, unlimited funds in a Swiss bank and "no ties to Israel", but he better "keep his receipts".
For the next few years, they plan a series of hits on their targets, getting better and more violent as they go along. The team isn't used to such cruelty, since none of them are really mercenaries. Even Avner was just a bodyguard before he took the job. Their bomb-maker (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a toy-maker by profession. And they are soon taking deep hard looks at what they are doing. "We're supposed to be righteous" one says in a fit of sadness. Even when they aren't shadowed by paranoia, they still convey in conversation they extraordinary difference between what they were and what they are now doing. And with their every success, Palestine hits back, a macabre dance of death as the old guard is being killed off as the new and more vicious guard takes over. And it's even said that the squads might actually be doing the work of the new guard of the PLO so that they can be in control.
But these are only a couple of the complexities of this film. Government and family dynamics are looked at under a scrutinizing microscope. And the deeper down the rabbit hole we go, we realize that if you replaced the word Munich and put in the phrase 9/11, that we have more in common with Israel than we might want to admit. Especially when the last thing we see before fade out is the twin towers in the background, a not-so-subtle reminder of what we are going through right now in our own country.
Performance-wise, this is a massive achievement in casting. There are no Americans in this cast which is headed by Austrailians Bana (in his best performance ever) and Geoffery Rush, British actors Cirian Hinds and Daniel Craig (yes, the next James Bond) and French actor Kassovitz. They perform wonderfully together and alone. They keep action tight and conversation even tighter. It could easily feel like a Sunday school lesson if it weren't for their performances and the dynamo script penned by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth.
For Spielberg, this film has been a long time coming. If you looked at all of his post-9/11 films, you'll see that they have dealt with portions of the traumatic experience. Minority Report deals with our paranoia, while Catch Me If You Can dealt with our loss of innocence playing dangerous games. The Terminal showed us a look at ourselves from the outside with humor and humility. And even the terrible War of the Worlds showed us the emotional impact of terrorism. But this film adds all of these things in and builds a foundation on all of it. We think that this is the worst thing in the world to happen, when all it really did was break us into what goes on to the rest of the world around us. That's really what Spielburg is trying to say.
There's been a lot said about Spielberg concerning his loyalty to the Jewish community and the Middle East. What he's really doing is making everybody think about the situation going on over there. There are no real victims in that struggle because both sides victimize while playing the victim. I cannot comment about the situation any further because I really don't know enough and I don't want to lead anyone to the impression that I do. But what Spielburg is doing is not drawing conclusions, but observing the behaviors of all sides. Look at the scene where our protagonists spend the night in a "safe house" with a PLO group. You'll see what I mean.
All in all, this is the most important film to see and quite possibly a classic in the post-9/11 era. And I can say with some certainty, this is the best film of 2005.