Friday, January 30, 2009


For the first time in a while, I won't be making a trip to the theater. I have RocknRolla coming from Netflix.

On deck are reviews for The Wrestler (****) and a DVD round up, including looks at Boy-A (***1/2), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (***), and Pride and Glory (***).


Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This could be amazing. I stress the word could. Variety's Michael Flemming is reporting that Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin' Aces) is set to direct a big-budget re-imagining of the 70's television series The A-Team, with Ridley and Tony Scott (Black Hawk Down, Enemy of the State) set to produce. The screenwriting duties are being given to action-auteur Skip Woods (Swordfish, this summer's GI Joe, and many, many uncredited rewrites). No intended rating was provided by Fleming in his report. However, this is an action film that NEEDS to be rated-R. No doubt about it. And with the involvement of Carnahan and the Scotts, it might be safe to assume that they'd be gunning for an R-rating as well, as creatively, it will provide them with zero action-related restrictions. The one major problem with this project, and it is major, is that Fox is funding it. And the people at Fox, for the most part, suck donkey balls. They've apparently neutered Gavin Hood's long-shooting Wolverine and they're generally known for screwing around with a lot of their genre material. They did, after all, hire Brett Ratner to take a giant shit on the X-Men franchise with the third installment. That said, it's possible that someone, maybe a young exec, sees that this is a property that can't be fucked with. I am not saying that the original The A-Team is some sort of masterpiece or a cultural landmark that shouldn't be touched. It was time-filler crap with an attitude that was fun in a cheesy way. But the idea for the show is timeless: a group of war-vets (who now, rather than Vietnam, will be coming from the Middle East) are convicted of armed robbery and escape from military prison, only to became do-gooder mercenaries. Besides the name-brand recognition of what The A-Team means to pop culture society, this is an inherently exciting action-movie scenario, that with the right flair (and with Carnahan and the Scotts on board you know there will be flair) and the right sensibility, could really become a great summer movie. I will be following this one closely, and hope that the new rounds of casting will yield some great decisions. The film is aiming for a summer 2010 release.


My sister is an actress, a theater lover, and film buff. She watches a lot of movies and is a Netflix addict such as myself. Here are her picks for the best from 2008:

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire
Tarsem's The Fall
David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married
Martin McDonagh's In Bruges

Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road
Gus Van Sant's Milk
Stephen Daldry's The Reader
Joel & Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler
David Gordon Green's Snow Angels
Andrew Stanton's Wall*E
James Marsh's Man on Wire
John Patrick Shanley's Doubt
Alan Ball's Towelhead
Mark Osborne's Kung Fu Panda
Jon Favreau's Iron Man
Brad Anderson's Transsiberian
Saul Dibb's The Duchess
Nanette Burnstein's American Teen
Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


More than anyone else, my father has helped shape my understanding, knowledge, and appreciation of film. While we don't always agree (Tropic Thunder is indeed a comedic masterwork!), there's nobody else I'd rather discuss cinema with. I will always remember our weekly trips to the theater all throughout middle and high school, and I will always apprecaite his almost daily suggestions of older and more obscure films that I've never heard of. Just this past Christmas, he picked up a film for me that I'd never heard of -- Seven Beauties -- something that sounds delirious and completely unique. And that's what drives my dad's taste in cinema; he's a big believer in the mantra "Take me someplace I've never been." Granted, he doesn't see as many films as I do, and there are a few notable relases that he has yet to see but intends too. But, without further ado, here are my dad's top picks from 2008:


Tarsem's The Fall

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire

Paul Weiland's Sixty-Six

Tom McCarthy's The Visitor

Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married

David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Joel & Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading

David Gordon Green's Snow Angels

Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road

Martin McDonagh's In Bruges

Runner's Up: Clint Eastwood's Changeling, Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, Ed Harris' Appaloosa, Adam Brooks' Definitely, Maybe, Bharart Nalluri's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day


Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World
James Marsh's Man On Wire

Sunday, January 25, 2009


If I ran the Academy Awards, this is the way it would go. Below are my picks on almost all of the major categories. Winners are in bold, with runner-ups below. Enjoy.

The Fall
The Wrestler
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire
Let the Right One In

Tarsem, The Fall
Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Tomas Alfredson, Let the Right One In

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Synecdoche, NY
Sam Rockwell, Snow Angels
Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road

Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Catinca Untaru, The Fall
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Kate Beckinsale, Snow Angels

Bill Irwin, Rachel Getting Married
Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder

Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Tariji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Samantha Morton, Synecdoche, NY
Amy Adams, Doubt

Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, NY
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Robert Siegel, The Wrestler
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges

John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In
David Gordon Green, Snow Angels
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road
David Hare, The Reader

Colin Watkinson, The Fall
Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight
Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Let the Right One In

Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
Robert Duffy, The Fall
Kevin Stitt, Cloverfield
Tomas Alfredson & Daniel Jonsater, Let the Right One In
Lee Smith, The Dark Knight

Andrew Stanton, Wall*E
Mark Osborne & John Stevenson, Kung Fu Panda

James Marsh, Man on Wire
Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World
Kurt Kuenne, Dear Zachary: A Letter to A Son About His Father
Martin Scorsese, Shine A Light
Stephen Walker, Young@Heart

Eric Barba, Burt Dalton, & Craig Barron, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Nick Davis & Chris Corbould, The Dark Knight
Kevin Blank, Cloverfield
John Nelson & Ben Snow, Iron Man
John Dykstra, Hancock
Krishna Levy, The Fall
Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Nico Muhly, The Reader
A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
John Ottman, Valkyrie
Eiko Ishioka, The Fall
Jacqueline West, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Jenny Beavan, Defiance
Albert Wolsky, Revolutionary Road
Deborah Hopper, Changeling

Ged Clarke, The Fall
Donald Graham Burt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Dan Weil, Defiance
Eva Noren, Let the Right One In
Mark Friedberg, Synecdoche, NY

Greg Cannom,
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Leon von Solms, The Fall
Judy Chin, Synecdoche, NY
Judy Chin, The Wrestler
John Caglione, Jr. & Conor O’Sullivan, The Dark Knight


Here is my fiancee's top 21 from 2008. Her head is still spinning from all of the trips to the theater. She's not a psycho like me who feels that she needs to list all 80, but I have to give credit where credit is due -- she sees a lot of stuff that she might not otherwise and I appreciate all the time she spends with me in the darkened recesses of the movie theater. Without further ado, here are her picks for the best of 2008:

Tarsem’s THE FALL
Stephen Daldry’s THE READER
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS
Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING
James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE

Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E
Stephen Walker’s YOUNG @ HEART
John Crowley’s BOY A
Tom McCarthy’s THE VISITOR
Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING
Thomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY
Darren Aronofsky’s THE WRESTLER
Clint Eastwood’s GRAN TORINO


I saw 80 movies from 2008. That's 30 less than 2007. Contrary to what some have said, I don't think this year has been a bad year for cinema. Granted, it's not anywhere near as accomplished, overall, as last year, but there have been any number of excellent movies, some small, some big, and many very unqiue. What follows are my final rankings for the 80 movies from 2008 that I took in. I will also be posting a mini-recap of my top 20 very soon. Also, my fiancee will be chiming in with her picks for the best of the year. But for now, here it is.

Tarsem’s THE FALL (****)
Darren Aronofsky’s THE WRESTLER (****)
Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (****)
Thomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (****)
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (****)
Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NY (****)
Andrew Stanton’s WALL*E (****)
Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (****)
Clint Eastwood’s GRAN TORINO (****)

Joel & Ethan Coen’s BURN AFTER READING (****)
David Gordon Green’s SNOW ANGELS (****)
James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE (****)
Martin David Gordon Green’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (****)
McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (****)
Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER (****)
Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (****)
Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING (****)

Matt Reeves’ CLOVERFIELD (****)
Marc Forster’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE (****)
Martin Scorsese’s SHINE A LIGHT (****)
Stephen Daldry’s THE READER (****)
John Patrick Shanley’s DOUBT (****)
John Crowley’s BOY A (****)
Alan Ball’s TOWELHEAD (****)
Roger Donaldson’s THE BANK JOB (****)
Stephen Walker’s YOUNG @ HEART (****)

Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS (****)
Jay Roach’s RECOUNT (****)
Tom McCarthy’s THE VISITOR (****)
Chris Bell’s BIGG ER, STRONGER, FASTER (****)
Alex Holdridge’s IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS (****)
Ed Zwick’s DEFIANCE (***1/2)
Ridley Scott’s BODY OF LIES (***1/2)
Peter Berg’s HANCOCK (***1/2)
Bryan Singer’s VALKYRIE (***1/2)
Ron Howard’s FROST/NIXON (***1/2)

Gus Van Sant’s MILK (***1/2)
Ed Harris’ APPALOOSA (***1/2)
Gus Van Sant’s PARANOID PARK (***1/2)
Kevin Smith’s ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO (***1/2)
Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN (***1/2)
Timur Bekmembatov’s WANTED (***1/2)
Adam Brooks’ DEFINITELY, MAYBE (***1/2)
Nick Broomfield’s THE BATTLE FOR HADITHA (***1/2)
Nanette Burnstein’s AMERICAN TEEN (***1/2)

Woody Allen’s CASSANDRA’S DREAM (***1/2)
Baltasar Kormakur’s JAR CITY (***1/2)
Brad Andersen’s TRANSSIBERIAN (***1/2)
Jose Padhilla’s ELITE SQUAD (***1/2)
Olivier Assayas’ BOARDING GATE (***1/2)
Paul Weiland’s SIXTY-SIX (***1/2)
Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s TRAITOR (***1/2)
David Mamet’s REDBELT (***)
Baz Lurhman’s AUSTRALIA (***)

Oliver Stone’s W (***)
D.J. Caruso’s EAGLE EYE (***)
Bharart Nalluri’s MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (***)
Louis Letterier’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK (***)
Michael Patrick King’s SEX AND THE CITY (***)
Ira Sach’s MARRIED LIFE (***)
Guillermo Del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 (***)
Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo’s INSIDE (***)
Hammer & Tongs’ SON OF RAMBOW (***)

Andrew Fleming’s HAMLET 2 (***)
David Koepp’s GHOST TOWN (***)
Anne Fletcher’s 27 DRESSES (***)
Zak Penn’s THE GRAND (***)
Jonathan Levine’s THE WACKNESS (**1/2)
Chris Carter’s THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (**1/2)
David Wain’s ROLE MODELS (**1/2)
Sly Stallone’s RAMBO (**1/2)
Mark Osbourne’s KUNG FU PANDA (**1/2)
Mitchell Lichenstein’s TEETH (**1/2)

Noam Murro’s SMART PEOPLE (**1/2)
Doug Liman’s JUMPER (**)
Fred Wolf’s THE HOUSE BUNNY (**)
Kent Alterman’s SEMI-PRO (**)
Pete Travis’ VANTAGE POINT (**)
Michael McCullers’ BABY MAMA (**)
Steve Conrad’s THE PROMOTION (*1/2)
Peter Segal’s GET SMART (*1/2)
M. Night Shymalan’s THE HAPPENING (ZERO)


Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER (****) is a masterpiece. It is perfect. That is all for now.

Lots of new stuff coming up.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER is the last 2008 theatrical release that I will see. Plan on checking it out on Sunday. I am really looking forward to it.

On DVD I have the critically acclaimed indie BOY A, which sounds just a wee-bit dark. Reactions to both will be posted soon. Next week, my "IF I HAD A BALLOT" column will be posted, as well as my final best-of-the-year list with comments.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


GRAN TORINO (****) is a sensational entertainment. The film is blunt, obvious, direct, and very, very effective. Clint Eastwood’s performance is one for the ages; I haven’t been this out-right entertained by a performance in a long, long time. Eastwood, a screen icon for over 50 years, takes his leathery persona to a new level in GRAN TORINO. The role of Walt Kowlaski, a bitter, racist, Korean war veteran, seems tailored made for Eastwood; it’s part Dirty Harry, part Archie Bunker, and all sorts of manly. The didactic screenplay by Nick Schenk is an angry piece of work. The film is essentially a dissection of different cultures, different generations, and different ideas on how one should go about living their life. Eastwood’s fleet and unfussy direction is a perfect match for the script. GRAN TORINO seems to be speaking for an entire generation of older American males, men who are disgusted by the disintegration of the American heartland. GRAN TORINO is a lot of stuff all at once: wickedly funny, casually racist, always compelling, and strangely moving by its conclusion.

Walt Kowalski has just lost his beloved wife at the start of the film. A war vet who worked for decades at the major Ford plant in Detroit, he’s unimpressed with the remnants of his family. His grandchildren are slobs and show no respect for their dead grandmother. His sons are Japanese car-driving yuppies who would rather put him in a retirement home than do the right thing and take care of him. But worst of all are the Hmong neighbors that have moved into Walt’s neighborhood, which used to be made up of Irish and Italian immigrants. Kowalski, who openly insults his neighbors with words like “gook,” “slope,” “egg-roll,” and much, much more, is revolted by what’s become of his neighborhood. Asian and African-American gangs cruise the streets, sparking menace on every corner. It’s the end of an era that men like Kowalski were raised in, and Kowalski isn’t going anywhere, no matter how pissed off he becomes.

Things get complicated when Walt’s neighbor, Thao (Bee Vang), a Hmong immigrant being bullied by his gang-member cousin, attempts to steal his vintage 1972 Gran Torino, as sort of a gang-initiation. Walt breaks up the attempted theft and then steps in when the gang members continually harass Thao and his pretty sister Sue (Ahney Her), kicking one of the gang member’s asses. Thao’s family is deeply dishonored by Thao’s stealing attempt, and is greatly appreciative of Walt confronting the gangbangers who have been bullying Thao and Sue. Thao is ordered to repay Walt in any way that he feels necessary. Initially reluctant, Kowalski slowly warms to Thao, taking him under his wing, and an interesting friendship begins to mount. Without spoiling what happens, it’s no big surprise to reveal that Walt will learn lots about himself as well as his neighbors, and some sort of show-down with the gangsters will occur. How it all plays out I will leave for you to discover. All I will say is that the ending is, in a word, perfect.

One of the many surprises of GRAN TORINO is how funny it is. Yes, the humor tends to be a bit awkward because of the virulent racism that Kowalski spews. But what Schenk’s screenplay gets so right is the anger that a veteran like Kowalski would feel after watching his neighborhood fall into a massive state of spiritual and moral decline. I have no doubt that there is a huge swath of America that resembles what’s on screen in GRAN TORINO. And there is a truth to the film that is at turns biting and deceptively sentimental. Eastwood growls and snarls many of his lines, not as a stunt, but as a way of expressing his inner turmoil and seething rage. The other actors who surround Eastwood do a serviceable job, but the lack of experience on the part of both Vang and Her is obvious at times. This makes for a more natural feeling to some of their scenes, but in others, they are blasted off the screen by Eastwood’s force and power as an actor.

GRAN TORINO is, in the end, a movie about tolerance, change, and respect. It doesn’t speechify, it doesn’t preach too hard to its audience, and while the film feels overly schematic at times, it knows what it wants to say and how to say it. There are a few moments with Kowalski where you peer into the soul of a haunted man; one line of dialogue in particular has resonated with me for the entire week since I saw the film. As the film speeds along to its inevitable climax, one gets the sense that this is the role that Eastwood has been leading up too his entire career. If it truly is the last on-screen performance that we’ll see from him, then he’s picked the right role to end on. GRAN TORINO may not have the epic scope of BENJAMIN BUTTON, the visceral kinks of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, or the conceptual boldness of SYNECDOCHE, NY, but it’s easily one of the best, most purely entertaining movies of the year. And definitely one of my favorites.


Wow. What can I really say? All in all, I think the picks are pretty lousy. Not that some of my favorites didn't factor into this morning's announcements, but overall, an uninspired group of selections. Here's the link, followed by my comments:

Zero nominations for the best film of 2008, THE FALL. Not even a cinematography or costume nomination. Completely fucking pathetic. A travesty in my opinion.

How did Clint Eastwood not make it in for best actor for GRAN TORINO? Ditto Philip Seymour Hoffman for SYNCECDOCHE, NY? Pitt was solid in BUTTON but I would have gone with those two over him in a heartbeat. And while I enjoyed Frank Langella's performance, it was nowhere near as rich as Eastwood's or Hoffman's. Pitt did however have that amazing role in BURN AFTER READING, so I guess the cumulative effect played some part in his getting nominated for best actor.

No Sally Hawkins for best actress for her amazing work in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. How could this be? Did Merryl Streep really need another nomination? She was good but Hawkins was much, much more deserving.

How could MILK get an original screenplay nomination over a film like RACHEL GETTING MARRIED? MILK was a paint-by-numbers, highlight reel writing effort, boosted by terrific direction by Van Sant and a magnetic performance from Penn. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED was a brilliant dissection of a family and a wedding and something truly original and special. GRAN TORINO should also have gotten an original screenplay nod. And WALL*E, a film I loved with all my heart, had a better, richer screenplay than SYNECDOCHE, NY? Not a chance. WALL*E is, first and foremost, a brilliant technical achievement, but on paper, it consists of two characters repeating one another's names throughout much of the film. This is a major oversight. Kaufman's work on SYNECDOCHE, NY will be studied and admired for decades to come; it's one of the most original pieces of writing ever put up on the big screen.

I thought THE READER was excellent and better than many people have been giving it credit for being, but under no circumstances was it a better or more accomplished film that THE DARK KNIGHT, SYNECDOCHE, NY, or any number of movies from 2008. Again, not saying I don't respect THE READER, because I do. It's just that I don't think it was as good as some others.

Same with FROST/NIXON. A solid, entertaining movie. But best picture and best direction? I don't f'ing think so.

Also, Kate Winslet. She should have gotten her nomination for her blistering work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Not that she's bad in THE READER but her work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was even better. And Leo got snubbed for his riveting work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD -- when will the Academy come around on him as a leading man?

Where is Bill Irwin (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED) or Eddie Marsan (HAPPY-GO-LUCKY) in the best supporting actor category? Michael Shannon was electrifying in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD but he didn't have enough screentime to warrant a nomination. If there was a best cameo performance then fine. Same with Viola Davis in DOUBT. Great work, but not enough. Nominating her over Rosemarie DeWitt in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is head-scratchingly stupid.

The only nominations I can really say that I am excited about are as follows: Robert Downey Jr for best supporting actor for his incredible performance in TROPIC THUNDER. Martin McDonagh getting a well-deserved best original screenplay nomination for IN BRUGES, one of the most underrated films of the year. Werner Herzog finally getting some Academy love for his brilliant documentary ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD. And it was nice to see Fincher get his first directing nomination.

So, as usual, I am left with an irritated feeling with the nominations. Next week I will be posting my "IF I HAD A BALLOT" column which will run down each category with what I feel are the year's best efforts.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Ed Zwick’s DEFIANCE (***1/2) is a square-jawed historical action-drama that hits all of the right notes. Based on an improbable but true story, the film is emotionally stirring and extremely entertaining in an old-fashioned way. Zwick, who has etched a solid career making big-budget dramas like GLORY, LEGENDS OF THE FALL, THE LAST SAMURAI, and BLOOD DIAMOND, is a filmmaker who likes to tackle socially relevant topics while infusing his films with a Hollywood sensibility. This process works in DEFIANCE, better than it did in other Zwick efforts like THE SIEGE, partly because the foundation that DEFIANCE is based on is extremely noble and well intentioned. The film tells the story of the Bielski brothers, Russian Jews who created a movable society of Jewish refugees in the forests of Belorussia during the height of WWII. Tuvia (Daniel Craig) is the stoic leader; Zus (Live Schreiber) is the trigger-happy fighter; Asael (Jamie Bell) is the more contemplative member of the group. Their plan was to save as many Jews from the concentration camps as they could, while killing as many Nazis as possible. The fact that this story is true eliminates the desire to scream “cliché!” or “that’s not possible!” It is possible. And it really happened. What these men did is nothing short of impossibly heroic, and to that end, they deserve a film like DEFIANCE to showcase their brave and selfless efforts.
After their parents are killed, Tuvia and Zus concoct a revenge scheme, and brutally retaliate for the deaths of their parents. When word comes that both of their wives (and in the case of Zus, his child) have been sent to the death camps, they are at odds with what they think they should be doing: saving lives or exacting countless acts of revenge-fueled violence. Tuvia and Asael stay with the group of refugees, building a make-shift community, creating laws, and trying to establish some sort of society, made up of men, women, and children, old, and young, healthy and sick. Zus leaves the group to fight with the Russian resistance. Friendship and romance blossoms in the forest for both Tuvia and Asael, while Zus gets his hands dirty with potentially duplicitous Russian soldiers while carrying out bloody raids on Nazi strongholds. DEFIANCE is, if nothing else, a riveting action film; the set-pieces are beautifully staged and handled by an expert technical crew. But unlike so many other attempts by Hollywood to combine human drama with the demands of the action genre, DEFIANCE remains true to what is most important – the lives and outcomes of the many people that the Bielski’s saved. By the end of the war, it has been stated that they saved over 1,200 Jews from being murdered.

As with any Zwick production, the film looks amazing. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is lush and poetic while also having a gritty quality that really makes you feel like you’re trudging through the cold, damp forest with the group. It’s some of the best work of the year. There are many action scenes, some big, some small, all handled in a simple, coherent fashion. One scene in particular has an impressionistic tone to its violence which was extremely stylish. James Newton Howard’s score is terrific, pumping up the entire film without falling into the typical bombast that other films of this ilk tend to do. The tight, economical editing by Steven Rosenblum keeps this over-two-hour-film moving at a brisk but unhurried pace. And all of the performances are solid. Craig is all steely reserve while Schreiber gets to play into the inherent machismo of Zus. And Bell brings a tender quality to Asael; he might be the youngest of the three brothers but he’s certainly not at any disadvantages. Zwick does an excellent job with his direction, even if he can’t help but have Tuvia riding a white horse in a few scenes, a little too boldly exclaiming that the man was a savior. And a few of the lines in the script Zwick co-wrote with Clayton Frohman are a bit wooden. But that doesn’t keep DEFIANCE from kicking some serious butt when it needs too. Better than I expected overall, DEFIANCE is a worthy addition to the growing sub-genre of WWII films dealing with the Holocaust. It’s exciting, sad, and by it’s conclusion, very moving. These men were heroes, and without them, many generations of families would never have had a chance.


Season 5 starts tonight at 9pm. VERY excited.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


BATTLE FOR HADITHA (***1/2) should be shown to all new Marine recruits. This is a troubling, extremely visceral piece of filmmaking from British documentarian Nick Broomfield (BIGGIE & TUPAC, KURT & COURTNEY) who made his feature film debut with this excellent but tough-to-watch combat film. More than any of the recent Iraq war movies to come out of Hollywood, BATTLE FOR HADITHA really makes you feel like you're in the middle of the shit, just as HBO's amazing miniseries GENERATION KILL did. The film follows a group of Marines and highlights their attack and slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians after one of their men was killed by a road-side IED in Haditha. Broomfield gives equal coverage to all of the people involved: the trigger-happy and emotionally distraught soldiers, the Al-qaueda insurgents who planted the bomb, and the innocent bystanders living in a nearby apartment complex who faced the wraith of the vengeful Marines. More than anything else, BATTLE FOR HADITHA urgently reminds the viewer that what goes on in war is angry, deadly, and extremely unpredictable. The fact that the Marines killed a large number of innocent people (including women and children) out of sheer, blind rage is extremely disturbing -- what kind of training are these soldiers receiving? Numerous points are made throughout the film that the Marine corps doesn't really care about its constituents; they are "warriors," groomed for killing and death. Nothing more, nothing less it seems. Of course, if one of my friends was blown in half and then died in my arms, I'd be pissed too, and I'd want to strike back at those responsible. But the disgusting acts of violence committed against the innocent should never have happened. However, in the heat of battle, people make mistakes, and decisions are made on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. Broomfield shoots the movie in pseudo-doc fashion; lots of handheld camerawork, semi-improvised dialogue, and extremely realistic moments of graphic war violence. The acting is solid across the board but at times, with the kids playing the Marines, a little stilted. This could be because most of the actors playing the soldiers are just that -- soldiers -- and not professionally trained actors. BATTLE FOR HADITHA, like Brian De Palma's underrated REDACTED, is a very powerful reminder that we're up shit's creek without a paddle over in the Middle East, and there are lots of unstable and psychologically damaged Americans fighting a war that they don't quite understand. This is a point that has been hammered home, not just by this film and others like it, but by first-hand testimonials of soldiers who have completed their tours of duty. Broomfield doesn't hide his contempt for George W. Bush and American military policy in this film, and nor should he. Bush and his team have let the world down for the past eight years. And now, finally, they're about to be shown the door. Good riddance if you ask me. BATTLE FOR HADITHA is a potent piece of work.

Monday, January 19, 2009


INSIDE (***), a stunningly violent French thriller from first-time filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, sets the current standard (at least from what I've scene) for on-screen death and punishment. This is a short (75 minutes) but unrelentingly brutal horror-thriller that utilizes fantastic digital cinematography and brilliant sound effects to create one of the craziest, nastiest, bloodiest cinematic home-invasions ever put on film. The set-up is simple: a pregnant woman named Sarah (Alysson Paradis), who has just recovered from a devastating car-wreck which killed her husband, is home-alone on Christmas eve on the last night of her pregnancy. A strange woman knocks on her door and asks if she can use the phone as she says she's been in an accident. The woman, never named in the film but played with icy, intense devotion by Beatrice Dalle, seems to know a little about Sarah, and before long, has broken her way into Sarah's house after she's been told to leave. What ensues is a vicious fight to the death between Sarah and the woman, with cops and other innocents making their way into the house at various points in the film, but never making it out. The directorial craft and technique of Maury and Bustillo cannot be ignored; they are very talented and stylish and their level of filmic sadism is something to behold. The performances from Paradis and Dalle, are, in a word, exhausting. Throwing themselves around the house and with Paradis in emotional turmoil for almost an hour straight, the dedication to their parts deserves commendation. But while the film is technically fantastic and the gore handled in a very up-front and realistic fashion, what purpose does the film serve overall? Many mentions are made throughout the film to the 2007 riots in France, but any ideals of social critique are absent in the story. Instead, what we're treated too (depending on your definition of what a treat is) is a genre film with brass balls, a movie that punishes its characters and the audience for the sheer thrill of it. And trust me, unless you're a student of the current new-wave horror movement coming out of France the last few years, you've never seen a thriller like this. Most effective are the subjective "from-the-womb" shots that Maury and Bustillo cut too while the pregnant Sarah fights for her life -- truly intense. I am not a fan of horror films; it's my least favorite genre. But every once in a while, a horror film comes out that I hear a ton of buzz about and my interest gets piqued. This was the case with INSIDE. I doubt I'll ever watch it again but I'm glad (in some sort of sick and deranged way, I guess) I got a chance to see what many people feel is one of the best horror movies ever made.


And it shouldn't have been. RIGHTEOUS KILL (ZERO STARS) is the worst film of 2008. Worse than THE HAPPENING, even. And there was no reason for it. The film didn't have to be a masterpiece; merely solid would have been acceptable. But no. RIGHTEOUS KILL is truly uninspired in every single department. Pacino and DeNiro should be embarrassed with themselves (but they aren't...) and director John Avnet should never be allowed to direct a major motion picture again (though, astoundingly, it looks like he will). Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz loses any good-will he earned with his terrific script for the caper-flick INSIDE MAN with this piece of garbage. RIGHTEOUS KILL was probably the first script he ever wrote as everything in it is a mess; the structure is poorly conceived, the dialogue is beyond cliche, and the "twist" is telegraphed so early in the plot that there is absolutely zero suspense generated by anything in the narrative. The plot, such as it is, is hackneyed beyond any sense of recognition: there's a killer bumping off the scum of society and all fingers point to a cop. Pacino and DeNiro are asleep at the wheel with their performances; they look tired, bored, and fat. This film is the very definition of "grab the money and run," as evidenced by its producers, the kings of "shit-as-cinema," Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, and Boaz Davidson. Just go to the IMDB and look at their resume; it's not worth the time to type up. And this is not to say that I didn't expect a piece of trash; I fully did. When the film came out last fall, it was eviscerated by the critics, yet opened solidly on the backs of its aging stars, and then sunk like a stone from the box office charts. Avnet, a hack if there ever was one, should stick to television where he knows best (he worked on the fantastic but short-lived show BOOMTOWN), because in features, he's lost (88 MINUTES, the other [but unseen by me] Pacino travesty from '08, RED CORNER, UP CLOSE & PERSONAL). The movie, which was shot in Connecticut doubling for NYC and shows it, looks tacky and sloppy around the edges. The filmmakers don't even have the conviction to disrobe their gorgeous female star, Carla Gugino, during her many sex scenes (and she's an actress who isn't afraid of nudity). I had to at least rent RIGHTEOUS KILL because of the two legendary actors involved, but this is a faaaar cry from the glory days of HEAT. Atrocious dialogue, ham-fisted direction, trite plotting, and lazy performances. It's the sort of film you can watch while folding your laundry and re-organizing your closet, two activities I engaged in while taking in this festering turd. What else do I really need to say other than it's the worst of the worst of the year?

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Ed Zwick's DEFIANCE (***1/2) is an ass-kicker.

Full review to appear soon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I fucking loved GRAN TORINO (****). It's blunt. It's direct. It's on the nose. It's racist and judgemental about every race and creed. But all in a great way. Eastwood's direction is, as usual, perfect. GRAN TORINO wears its emotions on its sleeve, which is a quality I'm usually resistant too in movies, but here, it really works. The dialogue in this film is so damn funny, so quotable, so truthful, that the film makes you chuckle at its perceptive qualities. Eastwood, in one of the best performances of the year, really delivers in the lead role. It's one for the ages. Full review coming up soon.


I know I am going to love what Spike Jonze is cooking up with this film.

Friday, January 16, 2009


The first four months of the year are some of the most desolate movie-going months of the year. The studios tend to mostly release their crap films during these winter months. That said, here's a look at what I'm most excited for during the first four months of 2009:


Nothing. No new major releases excite me, with the possible exception of the Bollywood flick CHANDI CHOWK TO CHINA, but I'll probably end up waiting for the DVD. Same with the Liam Neeson actioner TAKEN. If it was rated R I'd check it out in the theater; since it's PG-13 I'll wait till DVD. I will spend the next few weeks catching up with the remaining 2008 releases and turning out my end-of-the-year accolades.


On 2/6, CORALINE, a bizarre looking 3-D claymation flick from Henry Selick (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) hits theaters. The trailer is beyond strange. I have some interest. Also on 2/6 is PUSH, which looks like a low-rent X-MEN but in a good way. It might be decent; consider me curious.

On 2/13 arrives THE INTERNATIONAL, a slick-looking political thriller from RUN LOLA RUN and PERFUME director Tom Twyker and starring the eternally cool Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Definitely interested. Also coming out for Valentines weekend is the romantic drama TWO LOVERS, with Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Vinessa Shaw, which was written and directed by James Gray (THE YARDS, WE OWN THE NIGHT). Love the trailer and love the players involved; definitely seeing this one.


On 3/6 is the highly anticipated WATCHMEN, from 300 director Zack Snyder. The film looks fucking incredible. I cannot wait to see it. It'll be released in standard format and in IMAX format. It looks like a complete acid trip.

On 3/20 comes three releases that hold some interest for me. DUPLICITY, from writer/director Tony Gilroy (MICHAEL CLAYTON) and starring Clive Owen (busy in '09), Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, and Paul Giamatti, looks like a fizzy romp. I hope it's cool. The Alex Proyas thriller KNOWING with Nic Cage has some potential based on it's freak-out trailer; Proyas directed one of my favorite films of all time -- DARK CITY -- so I'll always be interested in this filmmaker's output. Also released that day is I LOVE YOU, MAN, a new comedy with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, which sounds like it could bring the funny.

On 3/27 is the CGI 3-D release MONSTERS VS. ALIENS which might be neat. We'll see...

On 3/29 is ADVENTURELAND, from SUPERBAD director Gregg Mottola. The film has a funny trailer and has a large supporting cast. Could be fun.


On 4/3 comes FAST & FURIOUS, the fourth installment of the franchise. I liked the first one, tolerated the sequel, but thought the third entry was crap on wheels. This new one looks pretty solid for what it is but I don't have any major expectations. Still, it might deliver on a visceral action level. Maybe. Also on 4/3 is the R-rated rom-com THE UGLY TRUTH, which stars Katherine Heigel (mmmm) and Gerry Butler. The trailer is actually decent for this sort of disposable entertainment. It might be a surprise.

On 4/10 comes OBSERVE & REPORT, a reportedly extra-raunchy Seth Rogen/Anna Faris comedy directed by THE FIST FOOT WAY's Jody Hill. I have read some amazing test screening reviews for this film. Very anxious to check this one out.

On 4/17 is STATE OF PLAY, a good-looking political thriller with an amazing cast (Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams) and a fine filmmaker at the helm (Kevin McDonald, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and TOUCHING THE VOID). Also released that day is the insane looking sequel to CRANK (one of my favorite guilty pleasures), CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE. Yes, it looks like trash, but gloriously offensive trash. I loved the first flick so I'm expecting to really dig this new effort from Neveldine/Taylor and the always watchable Jason Statham.

On 4/22 is the glorious looking documentary EARTH, which brings a tear to my eye every time I see the trailer.

On 4/24 is the long-delayed THE SOLOIST, with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, from ATONEMENT director Joe Wright. I love the trailer. Yes, it looks like a schmaltz fest, but for some reason, I am very interested in it. I am normally resistant to obvious "pull-at-your-heartstrings" movies like this but I love the look and feel of the movie just from the trailers.

So, there's a snapshot of the first four months of 2009. I can easily say that WATCHMEN is the one film I'm most interested in seeing. Happy viewing!


Clint Eastwood's GRAN TORINO on Saturday.

Ed Zwick's DEFIANCE on Sunday.


I love westerns. I really do. From the classics (THE SEARCHERS, RED RIVER, WINCHESTER '73) to modern efforts (UNFORGIVEN, JESSE JAMES, 3:10 TO YUMA), it's a genre that never fails to intrigue me. I was obsessed with HBO's brilliant show DEADWOOD and I still lament the early cancellation that that show received; it was as bold and unique as anything that has ever been aired on television. APPALOOSA (***1/2), which was co-written and directed by Ed Harris and released last fall, is an extremely solid genre entry for anyone who's a fan of this milieu. Harris stars as Virgil Cole, a gun/sherrif for hire who rides into the dusty town of Appaloosa with his shotgun-toting sidekick Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen, one of my favorite actors), looking to find work. They are hired by the town organizers to take out the human trash that has been infecting the area, chiefly, Randall Bragg (a sneering Jeremy Irons) and his gang of thieves and murderers. The set-up is perfect: two men who are quick with guns are assigned to take care of business. But a wrench is thrown into their plan with the arrival of the saucy Allison French (Renee Zellweger), a seemingly dignified woman who comes to town looking to start her live over after her husband's recent death. Cole falls in love with French almost immediately. He's a man who has spent his life frequenting brothels rather than looking for a wife. Cole and Hitch are best friends and APPALOOSA, at its heart, is a buddy movie, much like most westerns tend to be. Without divulging too much of the plot, the film revolves around Cole and Hitch's efforts to bring down Bragg and his men and retain peace throughout Appaloosa. There are some nice shoot-outs but this isn't an modern day action movie spiced up by western locales like last year's 3:10 TO YUMA. APPALOOSA is more of a character piece, taking its time to explore the friendship between Cole and Hitch. All of the bullets fired in this film count (and hurt), much like they did in Kevin Costner's underrated OPEN RANGE from a few years ago. The dialogue between Cole and Hitch has a witty, crackling quality and all of the performances are top-notch, even from Zellweger, who hasn't been utilized to great effect in recent years. The film looks nice but isn't overly pretty; the cinematography by Dean Selmer (WE WERE SOLDIERS, DANCES WITH WOLVES, APOCALYPTO) is simple but effective. Harris, as always, is intense and focused, and Mortensen, who was brilliant in 2007's EASTERN PROMISES, downplays his role as Hitch, bring a level of mystery to his character. APPALOOSA is solid in every respect and extremely enjoyable in an old-fashioned way.


Tonight marks the network return of television's best program -- FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Along with MAD MEN, I feel that FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS has set the bar very high for scripted dramas on television. The show has been running on Directv for the last few months but tonight, at 9pm on NBC, the third season kicks off for everyone who isn't a Directv subscriber. I absolutely cannot wait. This is appointment television.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Every year there are always a bunch of movies that slip under the radar and I'm not able to see before it's time to call the movie-watching year over. I have three major films left from 2008 to see: GRAN TORINO (this weekend), DEFIANCE (this weekend), and THE WRESTLER (next weekend). I'd also like to sneak in LAST CHANCE HARVEY. Here's a list of the major films that I sadly missed in theaters from 2008 and which are either not available yet on DVD for me to view or have just been released (or will be released within the next few weeks).

BLINDNESS (really bummed I missed this one as Fernando Meirelles is a master filmmaker)
TELL NO ONE (I heard nothing but amazing stuff about this twisty French thriller)
FLASH OF GENIUS (coming soon on DVD)
FROZEN RIVER (I should have made the time to check out this highly acclaimed indie)
VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA (hits DVD on 1/27; can't wait)
PRIDE & GLORY (hits DVD on 1/27; can't wait)
ROCK 'N ROLLA (hits DVD on 1/27; looking forward to the supposed "return" of Guy Ritchie)
RIGHETOUS KILL (it's out on DVD but I have read nothing but horrendous stuff...)
BATTLE FOR HADITHA (out on DVD, really anxious to check it out)
BOY A (read lots of great reviews...out on DVD...will check it out soon)
MAX PAYNE (out on DVD next week...I expect nothing great...but the visuals looked neat)
THE DUCHESS (out on DVD now...I love Keira Knightley...)
NOISE (heard lots of interesting stuff about this Tim Robbins/vigilante flick)
CHOKE (huge Sam Rockwell fan...I should've made the time...)
RELIGULOUS (how I missed this still baffles me...)
WHAT JUST HAPPENED? (despite the mixed reviews, I love Hollywood satires)
ELEGY (bummed I missed this supposedly erotic drama with Cruz and Kingsley)
I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (I am an asshole for not making the time to check this out)
TRANSPORTER 3 (I heard it sucked so I decided to wait for DVD...still...could be brainless fun)
A CHRISTMAS TALE (wanted to see it...need to find the time...)
BALLAST (never opened in a theater near me)
CHE (want to see it in its full four-hour glory and that cut never opened near me)
GOMORRAH (very anxious to see this; it opens theatrically in 2009)
HUNGER (this is a must-see; it opens theatrically in 2009)
JCVD (very curious about this supposedly artsy Van Damme flick)
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (reviews were mostly terrible but still interested)
TROUBLE THE WATER (sounds like imperative viewing)
WALTZ WITH BASHIR (really psyched to see this acclaimed animated doc)
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (never got a theatrical release)
WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU (never got a theatrical release)

I am sure if I looked even harder, there would be more notable 2008 releases that I missed. As these get released on DVD, I will check 'em out, and post reactions for all.

My hope is to have a final "best-of-the-year" list out by the end of January, before the Oscars. I will also be posting an article called "If I Had An Academy Ballot" which will contain my personal favorite picks in all of the Oscar categories.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Returning to the suburban battleground of his first feature but set about 40 years earlier, director Sam Mendes tackles bitter married life again in his newest picture, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (****), a nasty and sharply observed film based on the acclaimed novel by Richard Yates. The screenplay, adapted by novelist Justin Haythe, is terse, lean, and caustic. Mendes, who also works from time to time as a theater director, frames this story almost like a play. His leads, the always fantastic Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, pump up this sad story with enough emotional fireworks for two movies. It’s an even two-hander to be sure; they’re both completely on fire in the film. The matured stars from TITANIC are the Wheelers, Frank and April, who live in a cute Connecticut house on a tree-lined street where everything seems to be hunky-dory. But not quite. Frank, stuck in a dead-end job at the company where his father used to work, yearns for something else. And April, confined to their house in the role of homemaker, tends to her children while privately wishing that they were all somewhere else. Throughout the course of this crisp two-hour film, the audience is basically a spectator to a crumbling marriage. We are only allowed a few glimpses at the Wheeler’s happy times; we see flashbacks of when they first met and when they first saw the house of their supposed dreams. But right from the start, after April, who was an aspiring actress before she became a mother, bombs on stage in a local theater production, we see that the Wheeler’s aren’t the happy-go-lucky couple that everyone makes them out to be. DiCaprio and Winslet go at each other’s throats all throughout REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, and the film’s weakness, if it has one, is that the viewer has little to balance their loathing of one another against. But that’s the story that Yates and Mendes/Haythe have decided to tell, so it’s pointless for me to suggest what the film could have been or might have been had more time been spent showing their earlier years together. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD makes the claim that beneath the façade of domestic perfection lies the buried desires (carnal and psychological) of these people, people who were rushed into what they believed to be the “American dream,” but were really suckered into a lifetime of pain and anguish as a result of not working at what they truly wanted to become. I was reminded of a line of dialogue from Robert De Niro’s masterful A BRONX TALE when De Niro tells his son: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” That’s basically the theme of this shattering movie. Wasted talent. Frank hates April because he feels trapped by his corporate job which he needs to excel at in order to provide for his family. And April hates Frank predominantly because she feels he’s given up as a man. Mendes, as usual, proves himself to be a visual artist of the highest order; it also helps when you’ve got the unrivaled Roger Deakins shooting your movie and Tariq Anwar cutting it. Coming off of his last film, the vastly misunderstood JARHEAD, Mendes continues to evolve as one of cinema’s best filmmakers. This is a more mature effort than AMERICAN BEAUTY, lacking that film’s air of pretension and preciousness. Winslet and DiCaprio are both searing to watch, and are matched, albeit in a very small role, by the phenomenally intense Michael Shannon, playing a semi nut-job who may just be the sanest person spinning around in the Wheeler’s orbit. This is a tough movie that doesn’t care about being “entertaining.” REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is scarring piece of work, and it requires a somewhat masochistic viewer to appreciate all that’s being presented. It’s tough but vital cinema.
DOUBT (****) is an impeccable piece of filmmaking. From the writing to the direction to the performances, it’s a precision-tooled work from a storyteller who has an amazing grasp of what he wants to say. Adapted from his Pullitzer winning play of the same name, writer-director John Patrick Shanley has crafted one of the most thought provoking films of 2008. Set in the 1960’s at a NYC Catholic school, DOUBT tells the story of a priest who is accused of improper behavior with one of his altar boys. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in yet another forceful performance, is Father Flynn, a seemingly good and decent man who takes a liking to the one black student/altar boy in the school. The scarily intense Merry Streep is Sister Beauvier, the main accuser, who teams up with another nun, Sister James, played by Amy Adams, in order to try and bring Flynn down. James is the one who thinks that something improper has occurred; she doesn’t have definitive proof but she merely thinks that something bad happened. Shanley asks his viewer to make a decision at the end of the film as to who was right, who was wrong, who was lying, and who was telling the truth. This is a hard film to review without spoiling because there’s little to no fat on this film’s bones. Every line of dialogue is important to the overall story and every moment in each of the three central performances are so integral to the film’s outcome that it becomes a tricky movie to discuss without giving everything away. What Shanley is trying to get his audience to ask themselves is how does one really know what goes on behind a closed door? Is it enough to simply think that someone has done something wrong? What is a person’s moral compass made up of? How do we decide who is right and who is wrong when all of the facts aren’t made clear? Every line of dialogue crackles with authority, especially when spoken by Hoffman and Streep. And Adams, in the film’s most layered role, does excellent work as well, painting a portrait of a woman caught between what she knows is right and what she thinks is right. Viola Davis steals a few heartbreaking scenes as the altar boy’s deeply concerned mother; there’s not a false note played by any of the actors in this stinging drama. Shanley knows just how to wrap up his story, and during the film’s final moments, you’ll be left with a lot of fodder for discussion during your drive home from the theater.

Predetermined endings can be a hinderance for movies that are “based on a true story.” In the case of Bryan Singer’s glossily entertaining WWII thriller VALKYRIE (***1/2), the film’s obvious outcome doesn’t detract from the overall level of enjoyment that one will have while watching this deftly plotted espionage flick. Tom Cruise, the media’s latest whipping boy, turns out yet another – surprise surprise! – rock-solid movie-star performance as German officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who was the central figure in a plot to kill Hitler. Stauffenberg, a Nazi with a conscience (if you will), was disgusted by Hitler’s behavior and felt that what Hitler was turning his country into was wrong. A military man of great national pride, Stauffenberg was a patriot to his country first and foremost, a man driven by the belief that Hitler was ruining what was otherwise a good nation of people. Singer, working with an air-tight screenplay from his USUAL SUSPECTS collaborator Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, keeps the film moving from event to event with urgency and verve; it’s his most stripped down movie in years and easily his most satisfying since X-2. The script doesn’t allow for a lot of psychological shading so Singer cranks up the energy and keeps his stylish film moving at a fast but not hectic pace. Cruise is joined by an all-star supporting cast including Kenneth Branagh, Terrence Stamp, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Eddie Izzard, all of whom are German officers who sided with Stauffenberg and contributed to the plot to assassinate Hitler. That they failed isn’t really a surprise; anyone who has cracked a history book in their life knows this. So knowing from the outset that Cruise and Co. will fail – and then be executed – does nothing to undercut the palpable tension that Singer and his cracker-jack cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel bring to the action scenes. Credit must also be given to editor/composer John Ottman, who keeps the film moving at a breathless pace without ever sacrificing visual or narrative coherence. And his pounding, pulsating musical score is one of the best of the year. VALKYRIE isn’t brilliant, but it’s damn good, and sometimes, damn good is all that you need in a film.
(Personal note: I’ve had enough of the Tom Cruise bashing. For the last 30 years – give or take – the man has made some of the very best studio films and has never, ever given a half-assed performance. He has great taste in scripts and he consistently works with the best directors. I could care less who he’s married too, what his religion is, how many kids make up his family, or whose couch he’s jumping on. Until he fails me as a movie star, I’ll be a fan for life. People need to get off their high horse and leave the guy alone).

FROST/NIXON (***1/2) is another historical drama with a predetermined ending that never fails to be anything less than mightily entertaining. Reprising their stage roles, Michael Sheen is David Frost, the wild British talk show host who bought himself an interview with Richard Nixon, played by Frank Langella, after Nixon had left office. Dependably directed by Ron Howard from a witty and detail-oriented script by Peter Morgan (who also wrote the stage version), FROST/NIXON is an intimate time-capsule of a story, going back to a time when an ex-President could be gullible enough to agree to a series of interviews without really doing his due diligence. Nixon figured that Frost would be a push-over, as nothing that Frost had done professionally up to that point had suggested any real depth or societal importance. Nixon was blinded by cash. But boy did he get what he deserved. Essentially, and I’m not really spoiling anything that anyone with a nominal US history background wouldn’t know already, Frost got Nixon to admit guilt in his role as President during the taped interviews, which would then be broadcast on world-wide television (and which have just been released on DVD). The film has a terrific supporting cast of some of the best character actors currently working: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones, Matthey MacFadyen, Rebecca Hall, and Clint Howard all turn in vivid performances. Howard directs in an unfussy fashion with a simple elegance coming from his director of photography, Salvatore Totino, who has been working with Howard on his last few films. Shooting the film in a burnished, gold-brown glow gives off a feeling of yesteryear which is integral to the production. Again, you know where the story is going and how it’s going to end; it’s just a question of how good the film is in getting you there. This is one of Howard’s best films to date, a notch under APOLLO 13, but standing taller than his Oscar winning schmaltz-fest A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Who knew politics could be so much fun?