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Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Review: Flags of Our Fathers

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

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Eastwood scores another winner with Flags of Our Fathers, solidifying him as one of the great filmmakers of our time. Read on:

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Whenever a film is released that seems so obviously aimed at winning awards, my defenses rise up and my cynicism kicks into overdrive. But the simple fact remains that some “event” films are actually good enough to deserve every last accolade they will inevitably generate.

The undeniable fact remains that Clint Eastwood is one of our greatest living filmmakers, and never has he been so clearly angling for awards as he is with Flags of Our Fathers. Does that mean the movie is not good? Absolutely not. The story behind the six men who raised the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima, which resulted in the single most famous wartime image in history, is beyond fascinating. Eastwood has gone the extra step to tell this story right by hiring two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) to co-write the screenplay (with William Broyles Jr.), and the results are largely phenomenal and endlessly fascinating, especially to those who know nothing about the true facts behind this legendary flag event.

The battle scenes–and there are many of them–are some of the bloodiest a studio film has ever released, and I applaud Eastwood and Co. for giving an unflinching look at how dirty, gory, and borderline unmentionable this part of WWII really was. But fighting isn’t what this movie is about. Flags of Our Fathers is about manufacturing heroes during wartime. There is absolutely no doubt that the men in the flag-raising photo are heroes (three of them died on that same battlefield), but as the truth is revealed to us about the circumstances of that event, one can’t help but be reminded of the military repeatedly inventing or exaggerating events during wartime to generate support for causes and wars that may not have been popular at the time. For those who don’t know the details, I’ll let the movie tell the facts. Part of the entertainment value of the film is learned piece by piece the truth. But the rest of the film follows the three surviving soldiers in the photo as they are sent across the country to drum up support for the war and drive war bond sales.

The events these three men attend are often embarrassing and troubling to them, as they are faced time after time with the image of them with that flag. What troubles them the most is that one of the men who died was misidentified in the original photograph, and the family of the real sixth man don’t find out for many years that it was their son in the photo. But more than that, the three men feel more like mascots than soldiers.

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Review: Open Season

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

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Among animated movies, Open Season manages to stand out; delivering substance as well as style. Read on:

Recently, we expressed gratitude over the fact that computer-animated movies have become so ubiquitous and unspecial that they are no longer “event” movies, but rather generic family films that will soon disappear like the majority of their hand-drawn predecessors. This feeling disappeared, however, when we realized we would still have to see and review them in their increasingly lackluster glory. Open Season, featuring the voice talents of Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence, is the most recent of these efforts.

Thankfully, generic and unspecial have long since become de rigeur for studios in search of maximum profits at minimum risk; as such, those terms now more often represent a simple and resolutely “safe” adventure that will sustain preadolescent attention spans for 100 or so minutes at a time — which ultimately is a role that Open Season fills quite nicely.

Lawrence and Kutcher play Boog and Elliot, a bear and a mule deer, respectively, who find themselves unlikely partners when Boog’s human owner Beth (Debra Messing) reluctantly agrees to return her charge to the wild. While attempting to return to civilization, the two soon encounter a cross-section of crazy animals, including an irascible squirrel named McSquizzy (Billy Connolly), a tough-talking beaver named Reilly (Jon Favreau) and Ian (Patrick Warburton), Elliot’s rival for doe Giselle (Jane Krakowski). But before they can make proper friends with this veritable wildlife preserve, they discover more profound danger in the form of human hunters — one of whom, named Shaw (Gary Sinise), has specific designs on seeing the dynamic duo stuffed and mounted on his wall.

If there’s an immediate feeling of familiarity to this story, it’s because you’ve definitely seen it before; Madagascar and The Wild, to name but two recent examples, also followed this same fish-out-of-water formula. As such, the real question becomes not what story they are telling, but how they tell it, and directors Roger Allers, Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi do their best to breathe new life into the material without going straight for the to-the-minute pop culture references or even the sappy, indulgent melodrama that lesser filmmakers turn to as a catch-all for imminent cheesiness.

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Review: The Guardian

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

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Although formulaic, The Guardian has some gripping action scenes and the pairing of Costner and Kutcher is a good one. Read on:

The Guardian, the latest Kevin Costner film to clock in at over two hours long, recycles every mentor/student and military movie cliché in the proverbial book yet it does so effectively and with enough heart to prove see-worthy.

Costner once played the learner to Sean Connery’s crusty older mentor; now the fiftyish actor finds himself the teacher to a younger star. The torch has indeed been passed to a new generation. A noticeably trimmer Costner portrays veteran U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall, who holds all the records that can be held. But after a rescue mission goes tragically awry, Ben finds himself stuck with a teaching gig at an Alaska-based Coast Guard academy.

Randall’s tough methods are daunting not only to his students, including high school swim champ Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), but to the other instructors (including Neal McDonough) as well. The school’s commander (John Heard), though, trusts that Ben will make Rescue Swimmers out of these callow youths.

Ben takes a particular set on Jake making his life as hellish as Lou Gossett, Jr. did for Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman (which both this film and Annapolis owe a great debt to). Yes, of course, Ben sees something of himself in this young hotshot. But he also senses a reluctance on Jake’s part to save someone if they were in true jeopardy. So the question that both mentor and student must answer is whether Jake has the courage to sacrifice himself should that moment ever happen.

Jake’s not the only one who must overcome an inner obstacle. Ben, too, has fear and pain left over from the failed mission that led to his instructorship. Does Ben Randall, a legend to his fellow Guardsmen, still have what it takes to be a rescue swimmer? Or is it time for him to retire and try to patch things up with his estranged wife (Sela Ward)?

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Review: The Last King of Scotland

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

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The Last King of Scotland belongs to Forest Whitaker, but the rest of the cast give stellar performances as well. I see Oscar nods for Whitake here. This is a “must see” movie. Read on:

Based on Giles Foden’s novel of the same name, The Last King of Scotland is a gripping work of historical fiction that explores the reign of infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and the moral disintegration of a good-hearted but callow young Scottish doctor who becomes the ruler’s confidante.

Directed by documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald from a screenplay adaptation by Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock, The Last King follows Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who comes to Uganda in the early 1970s to work at a missionary clinic just as Amin (Forest Whitaker) takes control of the country in a military coup.

After tending to an injured Amin, Garrigan soon finds himself the apple of the dictator’s eye and eventually his closest advisor. A product of the British army, Amin has a fascination with Scottish culture and customs after serving with Highland regiments. He gave his sons Scottish names and incorporated Scottish dress and bagpipes into Ugandan military processions. Nicholas ultimately becomes like a son to Amin, and the young doctor is too starstruck to see the cruelty of the man he once thought was the hope of his new homeland.

When Garrigan finally realizes how close to the devil he has allowed himself to get, it’s almost too late to extract himself from the situation. Nicholas’ moral blindness and reckless behavior triggers brutal repercussions; only historical events beyond his control can possibly save him.

Amin is not portrayed as merely a bad guy. He is a multi-faceted person, vicious at one moment and a big teddy bear the next. He genuinely loves his country and despises the British who helped create him. In an interesting commentary on post-colonialism, the film shows how both Nicholas — a Scot — and Amin — a Ugandan — are products of British rule. Yet Nicholas is ultimately no better than all the other white men who indulged their base natures at the expense of Africans.

Garrigan may have come to Uganda to help people, but — like a corporation there to exploit the locals for their natural resources — he seduces local women and enjoys the good life that his association with Amin provides him, all the while remaining blind to the brutal truth. It’s not until he causes others to suffer that Nicholas realizes what he’s become.

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