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Night Stalker (2005)
Night Stalker 2005 An Excellent Re-Vamp
This is NIGHT STALKER done right. It is serious, not slapstick. Too much cheesy humor ruined the original, as Darren McGavin complained at the time. This new version gives the eerie subject matter the more serious treatment it deserves. Very much a worthy companion to X-FILES and even forgotten fare, such as Anthony Quayle's STRANGE REPORT, this new NIGHT STALKER will find an audience that appreciates thoughtful horror and interesting investigations. Kolchak is re-thought as a younger, more damaged man, seeking first and foremost an explanation of what really happened to his wife, while Perri provides an excellent foil for his excesses. Excellent, too, is the show's use of misdirection and subtle effects, rather than relying too much on flashy SFX that, in later years, made X-FILES absurd. While many strike poses of nostalgia for the old NIGHT STALKER, such poses seem false when one goes back and sees how fast that old production decayed into self-parody and needless comedy. It robbed the character of Karl Kolchak of dignity, something Stuart Townsend's portrayal brings back with aplomb. And Perri, as portrayed by Gabrielle Union, is a welcome addition, bringing brains, bravery, and beauty to the show. Altogether a fine effort that deserves to be a hit, but that will probably be a slow-growing cult favorite.
The Great Raid (2005)
Superb War Movie Done Right
THE GREAT RAID does everything right, on all levels, especially by framing itself with real footage from those times which, in some cases, features the actual events and participants. The acting is uniformly excellent, the pacing is flawless, and the historical context does not short-change any aspect of the story, be it cruelty and horror in war or bravery and nobility in suffering or even dignity and honor in combat. This is in many ways a movie made the way they used to make movies, but without the rah-rah patriotism or sneering social commentary. What it brings home simply by presenting the story in a straightforward manner is what we used to be capable of, what we once were and stood for, and what we fought against, and why. To be reminded of this is sobering, if not harrowing. Definitely one of the best movies my family and I have seen in a long time, it's recommended whole- heartedly for everyone. And Benjamin Bratt turns in a mature, restrained performance that marks him for great things on the big screen.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is a war movie for thinking people that does not plea to emotion or bigotry.
It's spectacle with the personal touch, focused on chivalry and ethics, ideas and rationality even as it moves through the historical crusades. This means religion and politics are dealt with unemotionally and the fanatics on all sides are shown for what they are, greedy trouble- making opportunists.
Superb battle scenes balance concise speeches that reveal character and insights into the situations. It's psychologically accurate even as it compresses certain events and creates composites of certain characters to preserve narrative continuity. That religionists will balk is a given. That historians will nit-pick is a given. What matters is how this film places our current situation into context. We see how deep the roots go, and also how pointless they've always been, how base and banal and meaningless.
It's a Zen movie. By that I mean that almost all the personal choices emphasized by Orlando Bloom's character, Belian the Blacksmith, are straight out of Zen Buddhist thought. From simplicity in life to right action, to mindfulness, to defending the helpless and helping the downtrodden, it hearkens to a more basic philosophy that makes a mockery of the high- flown religions stirring up all the trouble. Speak the truth even if it means your own death; in this precept the behavior and words of the religionists crumble to nothing. Making things better equates with lessening suffering when and where we can; it's a Zen movie.
This is to say the tenets of so-called Christian chivalry, which were written 50 years after Muslim leader Saladin's death, (and featuring Saladin as their exemplar of an honorable, magnanimous knight), equate with those of Zen, which also arose from a martial application of stripped-down ideals. Zen Buddhism was tailored for the Samurai, who brooked no nonsense, and who lived lives a choice at a time.
That KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is a unified work of art with a single theme and solid connective tissues binding its framework into a working, living whole is a remarkable achievement given that no sentimentality, faux patriotism, or pleas to bigotry are present in the film. Ridley Scott has made a thinking person's epic and a thoughtful study of rationality, based on William Monahan's script. Orlando Bloom becomes a bona fide movie star with this one, proving he can not only carry an epic film, but illuminate it with subtle acting and convincing heroics. The supporting cast, from Liam Neeson as Belian's surprise father, Godfrey, to Jeremy Irons as the embattled Marshall of Jerusalem, Tiberias, who is badgered on all sides by angry fanatic Christians and surly, resentful Muslims even as he's caught between them and the king's wish to maintain the peace, is exemplary. Edward Norton, behind the leper king's silver mask, is sly and astute, while Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, is magnificent as Saladin, leader of the Muslims.
As to the battle scenes, which many focus on to avoid talking much about the rational approach to religion, politics, and war presented in the movie, they are sharply observed, creative, and visually stunning. You feel the impact, you see the devastation of period weapons, and the siege, featuring huge trebuchets and siege towers, is presented both tactically, from Belian's preparations and active defenses, and strategically, from Saladin's perspective of certain victory by overwhelming numbers. Each battle scene underscores a different aspect of the period's war style, from horses as armored cavalry to boiling pitch set ablaze as ancient napalm. Bombs whizzing in and exploding haven't changed much, either, since the 12th Century.
See this film before it's suppressed by the ideology police and theocratic loons currently, and criminally, in charge. See this film before it's marginalized and minimized by cheap lies about its content or about Mr. Scott's politics. See this film before it's relegated to a has- been by the next mindless sop to bigotry and stupidity. This isn't a war movie to rouse the audience and make them feel validated. It's that rarest of war movies, one that tries to make the audience think.
For that noble, doomed effort one must stand and applaud.
--Gene Stewart, 8 May 2005