Archive for the ‘War’ Category
Friday, June 24th, 2011
Four of the earliest post-war German movies dealing with World War II are packaged together here in this new release from First Run Features. The Anti-Nazi box set, however, is more than just a historic curiosity or a collection of films more notable for when and where they were made than for anything else. No, it’s a collection of four quality movies. Which are as follows:
The Murderers Are Among Us (********8/10)
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Language: German w/ English subtitles
Starring: Ernst Wilhelm Borchert, Hildegard Knef, Arno Paulsen
Director: Wolfgang Staudte
Run time: 85 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
The first movie made in post-World War II Germany, The Murderers Are Among Us follows two people trying to rebuild their lives following the war. Susanne returns home to Berlin after being released from a concentration camp to find a man named Dr. Mertens living in her apartment. His home has been destroyed by bombs, and neither of them has anywhere else to go. They find a way to live together, then form a sort of tentative bond, then eventually fall in love.
They fall in love, I think, because it’s a movie and that’s what people did in movies in 1946. He loves her because she’s super hot and waits on him hand and foot and tends to his every need. She loves him because…he broods a lot and drinks to ease his tortured psyche? No…Susanne falls in love with Dr. Mertens because it’s in the script. That’s it.
That’s my one complaint about the film. But setting the implausible love affair aside, it plays only a small part in an otherwise stark but excellent movie. The two protagonists aer interesting. Dr. Mertens has come back from the front where he was a soldier. Susanne has returned from a concentration camp. And yet she seems vastly less damaged, mentally, by the war than he is. She is the one who provides the strength for him to conquer his demons.
His one, biggest demon, it turns out, is his former army commanding officer Captain Bruckner. Bruckner ordered the massacre of dozens of people, including women and children, on Christmas Day in 1942 in Poland. It’s a little simplistic to think that killing Captain Bruckner will exorcise all of Mertens’ demons, but that ends up being his plan when he meets up with Bruckner again by chance. The captain is now selling pots in Berlin (pots made from what used to be Nazi helmets).
And that is the best reason to see this movie. Horrible, inhuman monsters return home to become pot salesmen. The city of Berlin is a complete ruin. (The movie was shot in the real ruins of Berlin, which is something incredible to see.) And the awkwardness between all the people – the two main characters and the secondary ones and the bit players who pass by – is tangible.
Susanne is played by Hildegard Knef, who has an amazing story herself – she was a POW during the war where she disguised herself as a boy, and after this movie she did the very first nude scene in German movie history. No nudity in The Murderers Are Among Us though. Just harsh, brutal reality.
The Gleiwitz Case (********8/10)
Genre: Drama, History, War
Language: German w/ English subtitles
Starring: Christoph Bayertt, Hannjo Hasse, Georg Leopold
Director: Gerhard Klein
Run time: 70 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
Perhaps the most interesting movie in the box, from a historical perspective. This is the true story of ”The Gleiwitz Incident“, an attack on a German radio station staged by German soldiers posing as Poles in 1939. That way, Germany could say they were “attacked” by “Poland”, and respond with force – the invasion that led to the start of the second World War.
This wonderfully shot black-and-white movie lays out the German plan meticulously in great detail, without becoming stale or feeling like one of those made-forTV re-enactments. While the outcome of that plan is a foregone conclusion, the politics and personalities that put it into action are fascinating, and this one is a must-see for those who are into the history of World War II.
I Was Nineteen (*********9/10)
Genre: Drama, History, War
Language: German w/ English subtitles
Starring: Jaecki Schwarz, Vasili Livanov
Director: Konrad Wolf
Run time: 115 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
A semi-autobiographical movie from director Konrad Wolf, I Was Nineteen is the story of a 19-year-old (obviously) German soldier fighting for the Russian army. Gregor Hecker fled the Nazi regime with his family, settling in Russia. Now a lieutenant in the Russian army, he returns to Germany as part of the victorious Russian force, and deals with some craziness.
That craziness includes Germans who refuse to surrender, and Germans who do surrender and then turn guns on their own army to help the Russians. When young Gregor gets on the phone to try to convince a German officer that yes, in fact, the Russians have captured a platoon, that officer thinks he’s a German soldier who is drunk and refuses to allow the platoon to surrender. Gregor, as the best German speaker in the Russian unit, makes the loudspeaker announcements trying to convince the Germans to surrender. He is also the one sent in as a translator to the most perilous situations.
There are angry citizens, happy citizens, and philosophizing Nazis all over the place. The film does a wonderful job of capturing the chaos surrounding the fall of the Third Reich, from a Russian soldier’s point of view and also from a native German’s point of view. Gregor, of course, is both. There is a blind German soldier who believes Gregor to be one of his fellow infantrymen because all he can hear is his voice. There is a surprise attack from German forces who have stolen Russian army uniforms and a tank.
It’s chaotic, it’s confusing at times, but that’s appropriate. I Was Nineteen is the best film in this box set, and one of the great war films I’ve seen from post-war Germany.
Naked Among Wolves (*********9/10)
Genre: Drama, War
Language: German w/ English subtitles
Starring: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Fred Delmare, Erwin Geschonneck, Krystyn Wojcik
Director: Frank Beyer
Run time: 116 minutes
DVD distributor: First Run Features
Naked Among Wolves is the only film on this box set with a star most people might recognize. Armin Mueller-Stahl is a well-known actor thanks to his recent work in Eastern Promises, The Game, The Peacemaker and many other Hollywood movies. This is one of his earliest films, and it is also the first post-war German film to depict life in a concentration camp.
Mueller-Stahl plays Hofel, a prisoner at Buchenwald in the closing days of the war. The prisoners suddenly find themselves with a problem – a young Jewish child has been smuggled into the camp by a Polish prisoner (presumably because NOT smuggling the child into the camp would have ensured death). Now Hofel and the other prisoners must protect the kid while still working on their own resistance plan.
The most interesting part of Naked Among Wolves is the dynamic between the prisoners and the guards. As it becomes increasingly clear that the war is unwinnable for Germany, the prisoners start to become more and more powerful – if the camp is liberated, and the freed men say that one officer in particular was kind to them, that officer might be treated better by his eventual captors. The prisoners now have the power to threaten their jailers, and it’s a fascinating relationship that develops.
It’s another magnificent movie, wonderfully acted and actually funny at times. Another must see on an excellent box set.
Monday, March 21st, 2011
Genre: Documentary, TV series, War
Country: United States
Appearances: Shelby Foote, Edwin C. Bearss
Voices: Morgan Freeman, Julie Harris, Garrison Keillor, Jeremy Irons, Colleen Dewhurst, David McCullough, Arthur Miller, George Plimpton, Jason Robards Jr, Christopher Murney, Paul Roebling, Studs Terkel, Sam Waterston
Director: Ken Burns
Run time: 11 hours
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Documentaries just don’t come any bigger or better than those done by Ken Burns. I’m not an American, not really a war buff, and in no way do I identify with those crazy weirdos who dress up in Civil War regalia and re-enact battles down in the South. And yet, when I received a copy of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary on DVD, I could barely contain my excitement. I held off for a few days before beginning to watch – I had other things to watch, and I knew that once I began watching Civil War, I would be engrossed for several days.
And so I was. For eleven hours of documentary time, over the course of three days, I wanted nothing more than to return to this incredible film. I ate my meals in front of the TV. I skipped my regular workout routine so I could watch the show on my bigger, nicer television. I took no calls. I didn’t feed the kids or let the dogs out to pee. I might be exaggerating a little now.
But there it is – Ken Burns is simply the greatest, and The Civil War is one of his greatest achievements. I don’t know how people decide what is more impressive. His series on baseball was as good as the one on jazz which was as good as this one. They are sweeping, comprehensive and never for a moment dull. For something this big, it truly amazes me that there is no filler. Zero. Eleven hours full of facts, history, and incredible stories. There is no minutia, although there are some little anecdotes that are amusing and necessary.
There is no way, in a brief review like this one, to convey the scope and the achievement that is The Civil War. I could start to point out individual scenes I love, or talk about the voice work of Sam Waterston (Abraham Lincoln) or Morgan Freeman (Frederick Douglass) or Jason Robards (Ulysses S. Grant). And I could tell you all the things I learned about America’s past and slavery and rebellion and Fort Sumter and so forth. But I don’t have eleven hours to type. Suffice it to say, I am now a LOT better at Jeopardy.
And that’s what The Civil War is. A highly entertaining, remarkably complete look back at a major historical event, and one that will keep you riveted for eleven hours. I have just given up an entire weekend to this box set. And, six months from now, I will likely do so again.
Sunday, July 25th, 2010
Genre: Action, War, Drama
Countries: Hong Kong, China
Language: Mandarin w/ English subtitles, or English dubbing
Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei
Director: John Woo
Run time: 113 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
The Warlords is an in-depth examination of human nature. It features basically good men doing bad things, and basically bad men doing good things. It is a movie that looks at the bonds of brotherhood, whether that bond be by birth or by blood or by blood oath. It is a sweeping political and feudal epic set in Hong Kong in the late 1800s that delves deep into the political scene at the time, between Empresses, governors, military generals and faceless men behind the scenes. And it’s also a movie where a guy gets his torso blown graphically into tiny pieces thanks to a close-up encounter with a cannon.
The Warlords is all those things, and more. And less. It is so ambitious, and done on such a large scale, that it can’t possibly score on every front. The love-triangle, deception story, can’t possibly be fully fleshed out, so to speak, because that would mean there would be less time for limb-hacking and face-stabbing and all that Braveheart battle type stuff. The behind-the-scenes political manouevering must necessarily be touched on only briefly, because there just isn’t time to go fully into it. So the corruption and the backstabbing and the callousness of these people is treated as a de facto problem in life. Like, of course they are evil.
What really works, however, is the idea of the ends justifying the means. In a movie about love, war, politics, history and loyalty, only the loyalty and the war get really in-depth treatment. Even when the movie ends, we do not know if the ends for certain characters really justified their means. As in another Jet Li classic, Hero, we are left with a sense of sadness at the end of the movie (for different reasons – I’m not about to give away the ending to this one). We wonder whether the world is actually better off, and whether the characters we have come to know are better off.
But that’s another small problem with the film. We have indeed come to know the four central characters – three men who have taken a blood oath to be loyal to each other to the death, and the woman who throws a bit of a wrench into that whole plan. But we haven’t come to know them enough to necessarily like them. When they do good things, and make noble speeches, we think oh, OK. They’re doing a good thing. And when they do bad things and kill the wrong people, we think oh, OK. They’re doing something with which I don’t particularly agree. And we move on. If any of these characters were to die, I wouldn’t be terribly upset about it. They are not so sympathetic that I identify with any of them.
So, in some ways, The Warlords plays a little like a documentary. Of course it isn’t even a biopic or anything like that, but it moves in a workmanlike manner from one plot development to the next. Here is Jet Li getting to know the girl. Now he meets the bandits. He becomes blood brothers with them. He convinces them to join the army. They win a great victory and their families get fed. Now the politicians are playing sneaky games. Here comes another battle. And that’s all we really get. Which is fine, because I was totally blown away by the sweeping camera work, the massive battle scenes and the terrific lead actors (especially Li and Andy Lau, one of my favourite Hong Kong actors).
In the end, the message is fairly ambiguous, and that’s the way it should be. It makes you really think, and the final scenes (including one that is reminiscent of one of the coolest scenes in Cool Hand Luke) manage to conjure up some power that is surprising given the clinical nature of much of the rest of the movie. And by then, we have begun to really feel for one of the characters, who appears to slowly lose his mind as the movie goes on. The Warlords really is very good, and it should be watched, by fans of great sword-fighting action war historical political movies. Like a Chinese Braveheart. Only shorter. And not quite as good. The only real problem with The Warlords is that it bit off more than it could chew.
This is a movie that could have benefited by a gutsy move to add an hour to its running time. I found it compelling enough that I would gladly have watched another hour, and John Woo recently proved with Red Cliff that Hong Kong war epics need not fit under the two-hour running time cutoff. THAT movie held me enthralled for all five hours. Which is saying something. This one is equally ambitious, but its two hour run time cuts it off at the knees. It’s still a solid two hours, but it could have been much more. The Warlords comes to DVD July 27th from Alliance Films.
Monday, March 22nd, 2010
Bulletproof Salesman made me uncomfortable. It’s a documentary that doesn’t so much get inside my head, as it puts ME inside my own head, yelling at myself. It’s the story of Fidelis Cloer, a supplier of armored vehicles in war-torn areas of the world. He sells his stuff only to the very rich people who can afford it, and he freely says that he is a war profiteer. And I tell myself, from inside my brain, that this is awful adn I should not like this man.
But I do. I do like Cloer, who is in many ways charming and reasonable. I guess he’s a salesman, after all. There is something absurd about him too, and I giggle involuntarily, rebelling against my own brain, when he talks about making “cold calls” right after seeing a suicide bomber blow up 36 people. When he claims that he is no more a war profiteer than the people who sell bandages and medicine to front-line hospitals, something tells me that such a statement should make me uncomfortable. But it doesn’t, because it’s actually reasonable and makes sense. I think…
As so many movies about Iraq have said, this war is unlike almost any other. And so it is for Cloer as well. In the past, he has furnished armored cars that could withstand any bullet fired at them, and that was good enough. Now, he has to make cars resistant to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and as his cars get tougher and tougher the bombs get bigger and more powerful.
Bulletproof Salesman is, in the end, a terrific movie. Yes, it made me uncomfortable because I didn’t want to think about a subject like this in the way it is presented. But in many ways, movies are better when they challenge your previously held assumptions. The official website of the film is here. And it can be ordered from First Run Features here.
Monday, October 19th, 2009
Genre: War, Epic, Period Piece
Countries: South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Japan
Language: Mandarin w/ English subtitles, or English dubbing
Starring: Andy Lau, Ahn Sungki, Wang Zhi Wen, Fan Bing Bing, Wu Chi Lung, Choi Siwon
Director: Jacob C.L. Cheung
Run time: 133 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
DVD extras: Feature commentary by Bey Logan (Hong Kong cinema expert), and the making of Battle of the Warriors.
Even a halfway decent Hong Kong war epic is a pretty darn good movie. And Battle Of The Warriors is a pretty darn good movie. Even though it’s only halfway decent by Hong Kong war epic standards. Andy Lau stars as a wandering warrior from the legendary clan of Mozi warriors who helps a city defend itself against an invading army with vastly superior numbers. The movie is more about strategy than it is about bloodshed and swordplay. More people are killed with arrows than are killed in crazy action scenes, but there is enough great wartime action to satisfy those seeking that kind of thrill. Lau is fantastic, and he brings a serene, stoic screen presence to a role that requires little more than serenity and stoicness. Stoicity. Whatever that word might be.
Ge Li (Lau) arrives in Liang City as the village prepares to surrender to the invading Zhao army. The Zhaos have a massive army, hundreds of thousands strong, and the village has only a few thousand inhabitants to fight them off. When Ge Li arrives, he makes a quick calculation. Liang City is of little strategic importance to the Zhaos, and they are on their way to conquer the Yan State. So all the people of Liang have to do is hold them off for a little while, and make it clear that conquering their small village will come at too great a cost, and the Zhaos will move on and leave them alone. So with Ge Li’s help, they fortify their town and prepare for the onslaught.
The movie is called Battle of the Warriors for the American release, but its international title is more apt - the movie is really called Battle of Wits, and that’s what it is. Ge Li’s strategic planning vs. the military might and cunning of the Zhao commander. This part of the movie is far more cerebral and meticulous than it is action-packed and bloody. The bloodshed certainly arrives, but only after carefully orchestrated plans set it up. This part of the movie is very cool, and I found it riveting, exemplified by the scene where Ge Li sits down with the enemy commander to play a board game, as they feel out each others’ strategic tendencies.
Complicating things are the supporting characters, not all of whom make sense. The king of Liang City is an ineffectual, drunken buffoon, who cares more about staying in power than he does about helping his people. He’s not an unusual character in a war movie. The bumbling, clueless, mean-spirited commander is a pretty standard guy. But Lord Liang (Wang Zhiwen) is more of a cartoon character than anything else. Then there’s his general. He seems to be a cold-blooded opportunist, and he plots to destroy Ge Li when it appears he has become the most powerful and beloved man in the village. He orders the massacre of some captured soldiers, showing his and his evil tendencies. Then, at other points in the film, he appears to be sticking up for Ge Li when the king wants him destroyed. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be.
The two most interesting characters in the film are the gorgeous Yi Yue (Fan Bingbing), the leader of Liang’s cavalry, who falls in love with Ge Li, and the prince of Liang. The prince is a complex character, who evolves throughout the film. Initially skeptical of the stranger, and resentful that some of his authority has been usurped, he eventually comes around to seeing things Ge Li’s way. Then, in a surprise ending, something…happens…I don’t want to ruin the ending. I hope you’ll watch this movie. It isn’t perfect, and it loses a lot of steam after the big betrayal toward the end, but it’s overall a solid effort. And as I said, a solid Hong Kong war epic effort is a pretty darn good movie.
Thursday, September 10th, 2009
“This is the story of one Army batallion and one Iraqi village.”
Many of the best war films are ambiguous, in that they allow the viewer to interpret the film the way they see fit. Often, that means the viewer will see the movie they want to see it, coloured by their own bias. Full Battle Rattle is one of those films, and my viewing experience was most certainly coloured by my own vehement anti-war bias. But I can see supporters of the war in Iraq (if any of them still exist) finding this movie terrific in an entirely different way.
Documentary film makers Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss were given incredible access to Medina Wasl, a mock Iraqi village set up in the Mojave desert by the United States military. This is where American soldiers went before they were shipped off to Iraq. They would run through a three-week simulation involving the local “villagers”, who were played by Iraqi-Americans filling the various roles of mayor, or deputy mayor, or shopkeeper, and so forth. It seems that most of the actually dangerous “insurgents” are played by U.S. military personnel, freshly back from the war.
I’m talking in the past tense here because the installation in the Mojave has now been changed. What were once 13 mock Iraqi villages are now a series of mock Afghani villages, as the United States shifts its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. This film was shot in 2008, when Bush was still president and when the war in Iraq was still the big one. Gerber and Moss took their cameras behind the scenes to film one of these three week mock training campaigns, one of them filming on the side of the soldiers, and one on the side of the Iraqi “villagers”.
What ensues is almost (almost) a comedy. There are moments that are very funny, most of them unintentional. At times I felt like I was watching a mockumentary like Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman, or This Is Spinal Tap. One scene in particular sticks with me – although it shouldn’t be humourous, I laughed quite a bit when the American soldier discusses the authenticity of the severed limbs he has recreated painstakingly from the photos he took on the battlefield. It really sounds like he’s telling us that during actual battles in Iraq, he stopped to take pictures of the severed limbs of innocent citizens so he could make sure that this simulation was as real as possible.
He’s standing beside a giant pile of prosthetic limbs, which looks like the prop tent for a zombie movie. On one level, I understand the compulsion to make the scenario as “real” as it possibly can be. Without being actually “real” at all. But at the same time, if the soldiers do their jobs properly, the village shouldn’t end up with a pile of severed limbs, right? The whole thing is run kind of like one of those role-playing video games I see my stepson playing. If you do something wrong, then there are consequences. And your response to those consequences can either control the damage or allow the chaos to spiral out of control.
The most interesting people in the film are the Iraqi-Americans who work as role players in the mock Iraqi village. Some of them are facing deportation. Two charming girls are studying for citizenship exams in the United States. They all seem to like their jobs (what’s not to like? You get to act, have some fun, get paid and go home.) But some of them are conflicted, feeling as though they are selling out their country. I wondered for a while why they would feel that way – after all, they are helping the soldiers understand their country before they go over there. Hopefully, they are saving the lives of at least a few of their countrymen by educating the soldiers before their deployment.
But then, I’m not totally sure that they are educating the soldiers. The Iraqi role players don’t seem to have much say in the way the battle goes. It seems as though the Americans in charge of the scenario come to them and tell them what they’re going to do. They tell the deputy mayor that he has just lost his son, murdered by another young man in the village. He is to report this to one of the soldiers at the gate. When that soldier doesn’t respond properly, the deputy mayor must avenge his son’s death himself, sparking sectarian violence and a civil war. This is all an American-controlled scenario, however, and I’m not sure what the benefit is of having actual Iraqis acting as the role players if they don’t have any real input. At that point, they’re there simply because they look the part.
At the end of the three-week training assignment shown in Full Battle Rattle, the batallion has managed to screw things up enough to create a civil war within the village. There are dead soldiers and dead villagers everywhere. And then…the three weeks is up. They’ve completed their training. And, it’s off to Iraq. I would like to think that they were extensively debriefed after the training, and that it was explained to them where they went wrong. But I didn’t see that in the film, and I was left to speculate what the actual result of the botched training session might be.
Full Battle Rattle is eye-opening, and it’s interesting and educational, and it’s disturbingly funny. It seems to me that the army has spent millions upon millions of dollars building this mock village in the desert in California, so they had better use it for something. And now this same place is being used to prepare soldiers for Afghanistan. Full Battle Rattle does one thing exceptionally well, and it’s the main reason to watch. It provides a really illuminating and unbiased look at the American military mentality toward the war in Iraq and toward the Iraqi people. Sometimes, it’s very reassuring. Sometimes, it isn’t.
Full Battle Rattle comes out September 15th from First Run Features.
Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
“Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps! … And I want my scalps!”
Country: United States
Languages: English, German, French, Italian
Starring: Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender
Cameos: Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Bo Svenson and probably others I missed
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Run time: 152 minutes
I want everyone to watch Inglourious Basterds, which is a genuinely great time at the movie theatre. It isn’t Tarantino’s best. It’s not even his third-best. But fourth-best Tarantino is still better than 99% of all other movies out there, and you must go see this. Now, I realize after sitting through two and a half hours of mayhem and revenge fantasy and whatever else Inglourious Basterds may be, that I can’t in good conscience describe much of the plot, or recount particular scenes in this review. Giving anything away about this movie, or the ending, would take away from the incredible experience were you to go to the theatre to watch it.
“When it comes to killin’ Nazis…I think you show great talent.”
So instead, I have decided to enhance that experience, in whatever small way I am able. So I will mention five things to look for, things that may not be particularly noticeable otherwise. Tarantino is, and always has been, a director who references other movies in virtually every scene in his own films. This is not new. And you don’t need to be a movie nerd or an obsessed cinephile (or a cin-ob, as my friends at www.cinemaobsessed.com call it) to enjoy his films. But to get the full experience of Inglourious Basterds, here are a few things that may help.
Watch for references to Tarantino’s own films. The letters at the beginning are the same font and style of the credits that kick off Pulp Fiction. Different sections of the movie are split into “chapters”, just like Kill Bill. There is a narrator, seemingly for no reason, in a couple of scenes. Listen close, it’s Samuel L. Jackson. Toward the end of the film there is a phone call with an American commander. We never see that commander, but we hear him on the other end of the line. Remarkably, he has the exact voice of one Harvey Keitel.
Fans of movies like The Good The Bad And The Ugly or Once Upon A Time In The West will notice something familiar about the opening scene. In fact, many of the scenes featuring Nazi officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) are straight out of Western movies. Although he creates his own character entirely, he reminds me in nearly every frame of Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In the West, or Lee Van Cleef in The Good The Bad And The Ugly. His performance is the best in the film, his effortless charm carrying an almost imperceptible yet truly frightening menace.
“I grew up in a small village at the bottom of Piz Palu.”
A film critic makes an appearance in the film, playing what ends up being a moderately important role. A stiff-upper-lip type British officer with a vast knowledge of the films of German director G.W. Pabst, his expertise on that subject will come in handy. A quick something on Pabst – he was a well-known director, a celebrity in Germany by the time the war began, thanks to films like the mountain-climbing drama The White Hell of Piz Palu. Ironically, Pabst was not to be the director of that film, but star Leni Riefenstahl badgered the producer to replace the original director, her longtime friend Arnold Fanck.
“I am no fan of Leni Riefenstahl”
Riefenstahl was perhaps the most famous film figure in the Third Reich (next to Goebbels himself, perhaps – more on him later) thanks to, in particular, her direction of the film Triumph of the Will. It was a brilliantly-shot chronicle of a Nazi party rally in the 30s, which made Hitler appear God-like and laid the groundwork for much of the Nazi propaganda that was to follow. She had been a moderately successful actress up until that point, appearing mostly in mountain-climbing movies like Piz Palu, a movie that is referenced at least three times in Basterds. In fact, the German actress in the film who claims to have broken her leg mountain climbing, while privately disdaining the practice, could well be a dig at Riefenstahl.
Leni Riefenstahl is one of the most controversial figures in the history of film, maintaining to the end of her life (and she lived more than 100 years) that she was no Nazi sympathizer, and that while working for the party she hated everything Hitler stood for, and that she never really knew what the Nazis were doing. There is a terrific book that lays waste to most of those claims called simply Leni. Well worth picking up. Or, you can go with the solid documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. If you don’t want to read 400 pages. At the time Basterds is set, 1944, Riefenstahl would have been somewhere in Europe shooting her film Tiefland, which was partially cast with gypsy slaves on their way to concentration camps.
”I think he fancies himself to be Germany’s David O. Selznik.”
Riefenstahl was constantly in competition and conflict with Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda for Hitler’s Nazis. Goebbels really did fancy himself to be the German equivalent of certain Hollywood directors and sometimes to be the German “antidote” to Hollywood Jews. He was also a compulsive and occasionally repulsive womanizer, as you will get to see in Basterds. A solid documentary on him is The Goebbels Experiment. Worth checking out.
In many ways, Inglourious Basterds is a film about film, containing film, Tarantino referencing other films and his own films while using the power of film to take down Nazis and their filmmakers in his film. Even if you care nothing about movies, or about the history of movies, or about the fact that certain film burns faster than other kinds of film when lit on fire, you can still enjoy this, and enjoy it a lot. I hope that with the little bit of ammunition I have provided here, you might enjoy it a little more. Also, I felt it was apt to write a review of this film without describing the film in any way but rather by referencing so many films and film-makers myself.
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
“There will be no fighting in the Hall of Swords!”
Countries: China, Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin w/ English subtitles
Starring: Donnie Yen, Kelly Chen, Leon Lai, Guo Xiaodong
Director: Ching Siu Tung
Run time: 94 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
Ching Siu Tung is a remarkably accomplished action director. With movies like Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower, and Shaolin Soccer under his belt recently, he is a big name in the action world. Then again, his name is also attached to In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (as a fights choreographer) and the Steven Seagal vehicle Belly of the Beast. Now, to be fair, Uwe Boll directed A Dungeon Siege Tale, and no matter how good the fight choreography was the movie was going to be atrocious. And, to be fair, Belly of The Beast, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s utterly bonkers and makes no sense, is just about the best of the Seagal direct-to-DVD era.
The biggest problem with An Empress And The Warriors is not the direction. And the best part is not the action choreography, although it is quite good. No, the biggest problem with the movie is that, for its genre, it’s pretty darn ordinary. Romantic, epic martial arts and swords and costumed war-themed period pieces are, to Hong Kong cinema, the equivalent of romantic comedies in Hollywood. In that they are made every year, given a lot of marketing and budget, and every director seems to try his or her hand at it at some point.
And, like romantic comedies in Hollywood, the war-themed sword and martial arts epics in Hong Kong are pretty formulaic. In this case, they are almost all Shakespearean, in that there is usually betrayal, and someone who appears to be something they are not, and the desire for peace battles with the manliness of war, and honour is paramount, and usually everyone important dies in the end. I have come to expect this.
The films, also like Hollywood rom-coms, are hit and miss. It’s what you do within that formulaic framework that matters. House of Flying Daggers, Hero, and Curse of the Golden Flower are all examples of the formula done exceptionally well. Legend Of Black Scorpion is an example of the same formula being phoned in. So is An Empress And The Warriors. I really like Kelly Chen, Donnie Yen and Leon Lai. But they are just pieces in the paint-by-numbers picture.
Now, there are a few inspired and exciting scenes. The scene where Kelly Chen is being chased through a forest by ninjas is reminiscent of a scene out of Return of the Jedi (really), and there are scenes later on that are interesting takes on action scenes from Gladiator and Ben-Hur. And the relationship between Chen and Lai, as he nurses her back to health in his idyllic wilderness retreat, is compelling and realistic.
But the stuff I’ve come to expect from these movies feels like it’s there because it has to be, and there is little inspiration. As the traitorous, ambitious would-be king, Guo Xiaodong is a one-not character, and all he seems to do is look devious or look offended. I think he belived that as long as he looked like he was plotting to overthrow the Empress, he was doing his job. And that’s about all he does.
Also there is a love triangle hinted at a few times between Yen, Chen and Lai. But it never really rears its head, because honour trumps intrigue and romance and everyone does the absolute right moral thing at every moment. Well, except for the one or two Cartoon Bad Guys. And one more annoying but entirely expected quirk – when the Empress falls in love with the isolated country doctor, it’s not enough for him to just be a doctor. He has to, secretly, be one of the greatest warriors in history. It’s thrown in, seemingly, because a princess or Empress could only fall in love with someone who can kill people with his pinkie and a doctor just isn’t badass enough for a hot chick’s love.
Now, all these complaints aside, I did in fact enjoy An Empress And The Warriors. For the most part, I like the cast, and frankly I like the formula. Hong Kong does two types of films consistently – police corruption movies and these epics. And I would rather watch a formulaic, average sword and war and honour epic from Hong Kong than a good romantic comedy from Hollywood.
Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
“What were you doing out there?”
“Visiting a whorehouse.”
“If I let you back in, will you tell me where it is exactly?”
Country: United States
Starring: Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, David Morse
Eye candy: Evangeline Lilly
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Run time: 127 minutes
Don’t let the “bigger” names in the list of stars in The Hurt Locker fool you. This movie does not, really, star Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes. In fact, it stars only three people. Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) is the leader of the bomb squad in Iraq. He’s the guy who dresses up in a gigantic suit in the crazy desert heat to defuse bombs. He has done this more than 800 times. He is replacing the former leader of this particular bomb squad, who died in an explosion a few days earlier.
He has two team members – Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) and Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) who assist him. Sgt. James is not what they are used to. He does reckless things and appears to be an adrenaline junkie. Sgt. Sanborn is understandably furious when James, over and over, puts the teem in needless danger to satisfy his need for an adrenaline fix. But then, the movie seems to be asking the question – isn’t this just the kind of guy you need for a job this dangerous?
When Sgt. James finds a trunkload of explosives in a car, he takes off the gigantic suit. At first, this is off-putting and scary, both to me in the audience and to the rest of his team. But on closer examination, his reasoning makes absolute sense. With that many explosives in the car, were they to go off, he’d be dead, suit or no suit. So he may as well be as comfortable as possible while attempting to disarm them.
The movie is not really an action movie. It says nothing deep about the politics of war. It just tells the story of these three men who have the most dangerous job in the world. The bomb-disarming scenes are shot without music, on hand-held cameras, and are as realistic as anything you will see in a war film. The tension is there simply because of what’s going on, and director Kathryn Bigelow needs no bells and whistles to heighten the drama.
The Hurt Locker is, above all else, a well-shot movie. The camera brings us with the soldiers as they perform their duties and meet strange people along the way. The final act in the movie finds a bit of heart in the chaos, and I came out of the film with a different opinion of each of the three main characters than I had at the outset. The one complaint I have is that it’s too long, and although the bomb-disarming scenes are undeniably tense, there is one too many in the film before the story starts to emerge. It’s a small complaint, though, about a terrific film.
Monday, June 1st, 2009
“Better to be hiding in the woods. Like rabbits. Hunted.”
Defiance opens with the SS rounding up Jews and killing them. It’s 1940, it’s Poland, and the Nazis are out in force committing their heinous crimes against humanity. Those Jews that manage to escape make it into the forest, where they wander around lost and frightened until brothers Tuvia and Zus Bielski (Daniel Craig and Liev Schrieber) show up to take care of them and they form a merry band of refugees living off the land away from the reach of the Nazis. The Bielskis are brawlers, in trouble with the police their whole lives, but they are tough and they know the woods and they have found something at which they are very good – leading people and fighting Germans.
This is based on a true story, and a fascinating story it is. This is one of the thousands of stories of human perserverance in the face of suffering that took place during World War II, and I’m glad it was made into a movie. I just wish it wasn’t this movie. There is something just so…Hollywood…about it. The badass brutal revenge the brothers take on the police chief (and his family) who turned their father over to the Nazis. The joking and joshing among the band of fugitive tough guys. The constant addition of more characters to that band. It all smacks a lot of Braveheart in the best moments, and Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves in the worst moments.
The rivalry between the two brothers is central to the story, but again that just feels so sllickly Hollywood, right down to the reconciliation at the very end. It’s diplomacy vs. uncompromising anger. You know – that whole Braveheart thing. There is a third Bielski brother, but he is fairly pointless to the film. There is a kind-of romance between Daniel Craig and a woman in the camp, but that appears to be thrown in just because they figure all movies need a romance. And although both Craig and Schrieber are good, they are never really allowed to show any depth of emotion. Craig comes closest to showing real human vulnerability, but then his character re-asserts his badass persona in one quick motion and the human side fades away once more.
Defiance is good. I might be ragging on it too much. It’s just that I couldn’t watch the movie without being constantly aware that I was Watching A Movie. I couldn’t help but think of Prince of Thieves and Braveheart. I couldn’t help but smirk at some of the sillier moments. And I couldn’t help but think about what this movie could have been. It remains a solid war movie, a slick Hollywood picture about some tough guys in a difficult circumstance. It just happens to revolve around one of the most horrific and tragic eras in human history. And I would have liked to be reminded of that, a little more clearly, a little more often. Defiance is good. But with a little more grit and a little less formula, it could have been great.
Defiance comes out on DVD June 2nd from Paramount Home Entertainment.
Monday, May 18th, 2009
“You’ve promised people a victory I can’t deliver.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
The battle of Stalingrad was an enormous turning point in the history of the 20th century. Had the Germans managed to capture the city, the entire tide of the second World War would have been changed immeasurably. Enemy At The Gates, out on Blu-Ray May 19th from Paramount Home Entertainment, tells the story of the conflict in Stalingrad from the perspective of Vasilli (Jude Law) and his friend Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). For some reason, all the Russian characters in the film have British accents, while the Germans (like Ed Harris) are played by American actors. At least it distinguishes one from the other.
Vasilli is an expert sniper for the Russians, who becomes a sort of folk hero for his skills and kills thanks to Danilov and his embellishment of the tales of Vasilli’s prowess. As Vasilli’s exploits inspire the Russian people and fighting forces, the Germans send in their own top-level sniper, a merciless robotic adversary named Major Koenig (Harris). His job is to take out the folk hero Vasilli and give the Germans some momentum in the battle and the war. What follows is a pretty intense game of cat-and-mouse as the two stalk each other around the city.
Enemy At The Gates is not terrific when it comes to the battle scenes. There is an attempt to make them seem realistic and gritty, but they end up falling a little flat most of the time. The performances are uneven, as Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz as their common love interest are not great together. Frankly, war movies with love stories piss me off in general. But this one is, overall, better than most. The tension during the scenes where the two snipers stalk each other is palpable and pulse-pounding, and the story itself, of a man elevated to folk-hero status for killing others, is rich and thought-provoking.
Blu-Ray is definitely the format in which to watch this film, and although Enemy At The Gates is by no means a classic war movie, it’s a good one. And I suspect few fans of war films will be disappointed with this one.
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
Fugitive Pieces, much like Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur, is up for six Genie awards, and only two of them really matter. Rade Sherbedgia is up for a Best Supporting Actor Genie for his magnificently-played role as an elderly man who takes a young Jewish fugitive from Poland to Greece as the Second World War breaks out. Also nominated is Rosamund Pike, for another terrific performance as Alex.
Much credit must be given to Robbie Kay and Stephen Dillane, who play the protagonist, Jakob, and different stages in his life. The movie begins with young Jakob hiding in a room in his parents’ house as they get taken away by the Nazis. He flees to the forest and is eventually rescued by Athos, an older man who is in Poland doing an archaelogical dig. He spirits the boy away to Greece, and they live there together until eventually Athos gets a job in Canada.
The two move to Canada, and as Jakob grows up, his story is told through flashbacks to Greece, to Poland, and most of all to his sister Bella, whom Jakob hasn’t seen since the night the Nazis took his family. Sensitive performances by the entire cast make the movie worthwhile, and there are some scenes toward the end with a young couple which are surprisingly powerful. Jakob, you see, has become their mentor, in a way, the same way Athos was his.
Fugitive Pieces is well-acted, well-directed, and a moving story. But it tries to do too much. I hate to fault a film for being ambitious, but a little less scope would have made the whole experience more rewarding and perhaps more focused. I liked Fugitive Pieces, I liked it a lot, but it isn’t as good as many other Canadian movies this year.
Shake Hands With The Devil – not the book, or the documentary, but the Roy Dupuis movie. (*******7/10)
Saturday, May 10th, 2008
I have long said that Roy Dupuis is the French Canadian version of Colm Feore. When you have a big Canadian icon that you want to immortalize on film or TV, you pick one or the other. Anglophone icon? Feore. (Pierre Trudeau, Glenn Gould.) A Francophone icon? Dupuis. (Maurice Richard, Romeo Dallaire.) And so there was no question in my mind when I heard that Shake Hands With The Devil was going to be made into a feature film as to who would play Dallaire. It was Dupuis, or the film would not have been made. By the way, in order to avoid those “do your research” and “get your facts straight” emails, I would like to state right now that I am indeed aware that Pierre Trudeau was a Francophone. But that movie was mostly English.
Dallaire’s book was a sensation in Canada when it came out. A tragic and devastating look at the genocide in Rwanda. It was later made into a documentary film, which helped make people aware of the horror a little more, and now this movie, which might help even a little more. The thing that made me saddest in watching this film was the fact that it came out so many years after the genocide was over. Same for the documentary and the book. Now, it’s not like Dallaire could have written his book while things were going on. But it’s sad to think that so many people pay attention now, and watch other films like Hotel Rwanda, and feel sad and mourn the tragedy and get enraged over things like “why didn’t somebody do something”. And yet, when we see those things on TV, on the news, in the papers, and we are aware it is taking place RIGHT NOW, we don’t do much. As Joaquin Phoenix says in Hotel Rwanda, we go back to our TV dinners and turn on the hockey game when the news is over.
Part of this, I feel, is because of the nature of the media. When genocide is taking place in Darfur, in Africa, way across the sea, it is treated as simply a news story. A two-minute piece on the horrors in Darfur gets as much importance as a two-minute piece on the possibility of the defeat of the budget in the House of Commons. Very often, it gets less. A school shooting is big news, front page on every paper, lead story in every newscast. That is a tragedy that hits close to home. But more people died in thirty seconds during the genocide in Rwanda than have died in all school shootings in North America combined. It doesn’t affect us. It is reported as “here’s what’s going on in a country that isn’t ours”, and is followed up with “a small town in France has outlawed public toilets!” and we forget all about it. Toilets! That’s hilarious! I think it’s safe to say that most of us know (myself included) know more about Columbine and Dawson College and Virginia Tech than we do about Darfur. Really, this isn’t exactly the fault of the media. This is really the way we want to be fed our news, and they are just complying with the wishes of the general population – you wouldn’t get many ratings if you showed machete massacres every night.
And so we get Shake Hands With the Devil, a movie that has been made only when it could be made, many years after the fact. And hopefully, it makes people aware that such things are still going on, or curious enough to find out. (Steven Spielberg has just pulled out of the Olympics in Beijing to protest China, feeling that they haven’t done enough to stop the genocide in Darfur.) And the movie is pretty good, as a movie. Dupuis is steely and tough as Dallaire, a man who carries himself with the utmost dignity and commands respect as a lifelong soldier. His supporting cast is for the most part excellent. Having just finished the book, I recognized most of the characters being protrayed just as I had imagined them. Especially James Gallanders as Major Brent Beardsley, who has a few tough scenes. This is a fascinating story, and that alone makes the movie worth watching.
But there is a little problem with the movie, looking at it solely in the context of a movie. It is a dramatization of real events, but somehow, it doesn’t feel dramatized enough. There are scenes taken directly from the book – a scene where Beardsley is confronted by a mob of machete-weilding Interahmwe, as he tries to get a wounded woman to safety, and he punches the man who stands in his way. In the book, the scene is tense, dramatic and poignant. In the film, it’s tough to tell what you’re seeing. Is that guy standing in his way…or not…or OK it’s over. Another scene where Dallaire and Beardsley are blockaded from a portion of the city and must get out of the car and walk through the barricade, as weapons are cocked and the bad guys say they will shoot. Again, in the book, this scene made me pretty nervous. In the movie, it is treated as a matter of course.
Doc hated Gone Baby Gone because he had read the book first, and he couldn’t reconcile what he saw on the screen with what he had imagined in his head when reading. I had the same problem with Shake Hands With the Devil, seeing scenes that were so familiar to me and yet not feeling their poignancy as much as I had while reading. But at the same time, I’m not sure anyone would understand this movie without having read the book first. There are so many factions and institutions – the RPF, the RGF, the Interahmwe, the president, prime minister, interim government, and countless others. Each with their own politics, their own attitudes, their own enemies and their own clandestine secrets. It is such a complicated picture that the movie can’t hope for a moment to make sense of it all in less than two hours. In the end, this film should be watched, and is certainly good, but if you had to make a choice, read the book.
Saturday, May 10th, 2008
Lust, Caution is the newest movie from the man who may well be the most over-rated director this side of M. Night Shyamalan. Ang Lee, the celebrated director of the magnificent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has followed up that triumph with three movies which, while decent, were decidedly over-rated. The Hulk, in which Eric Bana rips off his shirt and becomes giant and green, was a nice new take on the comic book genre, but it was far from revolutionary. Lee followed that one up with Brokeback Mountain, which scored far more points for it’s subject matter and for the guts it took to make the project a major Hollywood film, than it did for actual quality. A good film, but not as great as people seem to think. And now we get Lust, Caution. Another film that took guts, another film that pushes boundaries, but not exactly Earth-shattering. (I say he is less over-rated than M. Night Shyamalan, because Lee continues to at the very least make good movies. Shyamalan, since the Sixth Sense and maybe Unbreakable, has blown chunks. His movies have been downright rotten.)
The premise of Lust, Caution is that it is 1942, in the middle of World War II. The Japanese have occupied China since the late 30s, and the story takes place in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong. Tang Wei plays a woman who used to be a college student, and is a part of the resistance fighting the occupation. This is now a collaborative occupation, with both Japanese and Chinese officials cracking down on the populace. Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) is an official in this oppressive government, a man who has risen through the ranks by being brutal and sadistic, torturing people and smoking out the reactionaries. One of those reactionaries is Tang Wei. Her assignment is to infiltrate the collaborationist government by becoming Mr. Lee’s lover. And she achieves that goal with considerable success. She is young and beautiful, and quickly catches his eye. Tang Wei is expected to be able to bring about a situation where Mr. Lee can be assassinated by the reactionaries, she is not expected to do it herself.
We do not see the atrocities being committed by Mr. Lee in the movie. Therefore, the only way Ang Lee chooses to show his sadism is through sex. And there is a lot of sex. Dirty, GRAPHIC sex. This film famously got an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, and while I almost never agree with the MPAA, this is one of the few times I actually understand them. The sex becomes the central character in the story, as Tang Wei begins the relationship reluctant to give up her virginity, and then the two graduate to more and more S&M flavoured relations. Mr. Lee begins to show more and more of his true nature, and as he does so, Wei begins to become more and more intertwined with him. She still hates him, but like the Brokeback Mountain cowboys, she can’t quit him. By the way, although the sex is graphic, and could possibly be titillating to some, it was not the sadistic quality of it that put me off, it was the bushy armpit hair. Tough to enjoy a sex scene when all you’re looking at is armpits.
At any rate, the film is, once again, quite good. But not great, not classic, not wonderful. As always, Ang Lee shows he is terrific with the camera. The shots he uses are breathtaking, and he has an eye for photographing sex with the best of them. But this movie is LONG. And by the time it is over, any connection we have built up with the characters has turned into something of a disconnect simply because of the length. And because there are so many sex scenes, and the sex is really what drives the movie, those are the main basis we have for even knowing the Mr. Lee character at all, and in large part knowing his mistress as well. And by the end, we really don’t know how to feel about Mr. Lee at all – we feel like we should hate him, that he is a sadist, but the only way we see that sadism is through sex. However, his mistress likes that bondage type sex. So if she likes it, how can we really be upset with him for it? Perhaps this is what Ang Lee is going for – this is exactly how Tang Wei sees Mr. Lee as well. But it means that there is very little emotional resonance in the final scenes, which ought to be far more powerful than they are. I like this movie, but it is no Crouching Tiger.
Saturday, May 10th, 2008
In The Valley of Elah did poorly at the box office. It turns out people just don’t want to be challenged these days. This is why movies like “Meet The Spartans” debut at #1. I was almost ready to write a review of Meet The Spartans, sight unseen, simply to convince people to avoid it. The same guys who made Epic Movie and Date Movie, which were two incredibly bad films, were clearly going to make one just as bad. And I felt that people going to see this film at all would just encourage them to make more. And so next year we will likely get Pirates Of The Beowulf or some such garbage. But even had I done so, it would not have mattered much. People would still have gone out to Meet The Spartans in droves, and the dumbest two percent of those people would have recommended it glowingly to their friends. “They have a pit! Like the one in 300. Like, EXACTLY the SAME. And they kick Britney Spears into it! I have never laughed so hard in my life! Except for the time I took that IQ test and got a result lower than ‘celery”". Meet The Spartans earned 18.7 million dollars in it’s first weekend at the box office, narrowly beating Rambo for top spot. In The Valley Of Elah made 1.5 million dollars on opening weekend, and left theatres having earned 6.7 million overall.
I don’t know why I’m mentioning Meet The Spartans and In The Valley Of Elah in the same sentence. I think it’s merely a method of illustrating the general idiocy and apathy of movie audiences today. Because people do not want to be challenged. They don’t want to think at the movies. And they certainly don’t want a movie that will make them think once they have left the theatre. That’s like bringing your work home with you! Imagine going to that movie with your wife, and then in the car on the way home, she wants to TALK about it! That certainly seems like more effort than it’s worth, doesn’t it? And, I’m sorry to say, for all you movie-watchers, that In The Valley Of Elah will spark discussion, and make you think, and might just lead to other topics of discussion as well. Topics like…Iraq. How this war is different. This war is not World War II. It is not even Vietnam. This is something that we haven’t seen before, and in this film we see that perfectly through the eyes of Tommy Lee Jones, who has deservedly earned a Best Actor nomination for this Sunday’s Oscars.
Jones plays the father of a missing boy. His son returned from the war in Iraq, and then disappeared completely. And Jones goes after him with the single-minded determination of a war veteran. A vet himself, Jones is that uber-American army guy who, after his many years of service, is still completely invested in the army. Not that he still works with them and does army-related things, but he is emotionally invested. He believes strongly in the bonds that connect soldiers, in the military code of discipline and in the army. Which means he believes the war in Iraq is important, that it is American and that it is just another proving ground for young men who love their country and are bringing democracy and peace to a backward nation. But his search for his son challenges those beliefs, and he will not be the same man when the search is over. In The Valley of Elah was in the top 200 movies at the box-office in 2007. It was in the top 100 R-rated movies. (Although I really don’t know why this was rated R. We don’t see that much of the blood and gore that is insinuated throughout the film.) And it had the 233rd biggest opening weekend of the year. But it is one of the 20 best movies made in 2007.
Charlize Theron co-stars as a police officer who aids Jones in his quest for his sone, and provides one of the few problems I have with the movie. We know who Charlize Theron is. We have seen her in dozens of movies where we are fully aware that she is one of the hottest women alive. And yet, in this movie as in others, she seems to be intentionally dialing down her looks. She is just not that hot here. And we have to think to ourselves – we know how gorgeous this woman is. Why wouldn’t she want to look good? Sure she’s a police officer, but would she, as a police officer, go out of her way to look as plain as possible? Well, maybe. Susan Sarandon shows up in what turns out to be a bit part as Jones’ wife and the boy’s mother. And a stellar cast make up the military unit with whom the boy was serving. In The Valley of Elah is a terrific achievement. It’s slow, it’s deliberate, and it’s very political. It will challenge your assumptions – even if you are already against the war in Iraq, there are still other questions posed by the movie that will make you think. This may be the most accurate representation of soldiers in Iraq yet put on film in a feature film. It should really be seen. By everyone. Let’s at the very least make it a success on DVD!