The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Dullsville and then some. Artfully shot, for sure, but ripping off Malick isn’t as easy as it looks. The voice-over narration, always describing what we already saw, doesn’t create openings but locks the movie down even more than the airless, repetitive scenes between paranoid outlaws. Sam Shepard disappears much too early, and soon thereafter, the drama completely stalls. After thirty minutes, I was begging for Casey Affleck to shoot Brad Pitt in the head already, but there were two more hours to go. Andrew Dominik, 2007. *
3:10 to Yuma
Now, this is how you do a western: engaging, exciting, and steeped in sepia tones. Russell Crowe plays a bandit who has to be brought to justice; Christian Bale is the one-legged stand-up guy to do it. Together with his performances in Rescue Dawn and I’m Not There, Bale is one of my favorite actors this year. James Mangold, 2007. ***
The Bucket List
The trailer for this movie is so hideous, we just had to check it out. Also, we might have been drunk. If Jack Nicholson throwing up in a hospital gown or jumping out of airplanes is your idea of fun, go right ahead. Sanctimonious Morgan Freeman is starting to get on my nerves. Rob Reiner, 2007. *
In Between Days
We had high hopes for this unassuming coming-of-age story about a Korean immigrant. I’m perfectly willing to stomach a slight story, mannered direction, or uncommunicative main characters — but if you heap them on top of each other, I’m probably already asleep. 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. So Yong Kim, 2007. *
The Brave One
Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard have what they call “good chemistry” in this surprisingly gripping tale of New York City revenge. Neil Jordan, 2007. ***
In the Valley of Elah
Worlds better than Crash, but that’s not saying much of anything. Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron try to solve the murder of his son, an AWOL soldier on leave from Iraq. In the process, they discover all sorts of truths about important issues. See Redacted instead. Paul Haggis, 2007. **
Every bit as lovely the second time around. I finally discovered the title in the film, and I have a new favorite line: “Can I bring my mother?” Marcy’s review. John Carney, 2007. ****
No Country for Old Men
Wildly overpraised. Yes, I can see the expert filmmaking here, but all the sumptuous cinematography and vivid attention to detail is lavished on a story full of walking cliches and a lousy third act. On second viewing, the glaring problems with both plot and character — what Marcy called “lack of soul” — are impossible to ignore. Llewelyn’s too foolish to care for, the Coens avert their gaze at the crucial moment, and Bell’s defeatist retread of Marge Gunderson leaves us with a dire moral: “you can’t stop what’s coming.” Oh well then. No Country wastes a lot of hard-boiled effort on a tale that ends with an Old Testament shrug. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007. **
Brian De Palma’s Redacted, the devastating reconstruction of the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by American soldiers, has been one of the most divisive films at the New York Film Festival and it came as no surprise when tempers flared at a NYFF press conference with De Palma yesterday. “Did you intend to make a horror film for hipsters?” one incensed journalist asked. Answer: “No.”
When selection committee member J. Hoberman asked about the black bars that now cover some of the photographs at the conclusion of the film, Palma didn’t pull any punches, either: Redacted is now itself redacted,” he said. “My cut was violated.” No sooner had he fingered producer Mark Cuban for the changes in the film that a lone voice spoke up from the back of the Walter Reade Theater: “That’s not true!”
Eamonn Bowles from Magnolia Pictures went on to contradict De Palma, and after the conference, co-producer Jason Kliot took to the stage to explain that he saw the problem not as a “Cuban vs. De Palma type silly debate” but an issue of Fair Use laws, which he considered completely unfair: “they set it up so we cannot use images of our own culture to tell the truth about our own culture.”
De Palma also spoke about desensitization, voyeurism, and whether it’s easier to be labeled a misogynist or a traitor. At Spoutblog, Karina Longworth gets a statement from Cuban, and Bowles comments at Movie City Indie. My review of Redacted is up on About.com. The redacted version of the film will screen for the public on October 9 and 10. Magnolia will release the film in November.
More than with any film I’ve seen at the New York Film Festival so far, I’ve been struggling to find a way to talk about Brian De Palma’s Redacted, a movie that attempts to recreate the appalling images which have been systematically removed from the “news” about Iraq. The devastating reconstruction of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl by American soldiers in Samarra in 2006, told entirely through “found” footage, the film felt like a well-aimed punch to the gut — or perhaps a stab in the heart. Whether blunt or sharp, the film’s impact is impossible to dismiss. Even though I thought I was handling the brutalities on screen well (usually by leaning over to scribble something in my notebook), I found myself unable to get up once the final credits started to roll; it had become physically impossible to move. Redacted sent me reeling.
Gabriel Range’s faux TV documentary about the October 2007 assassination of George Bush and its aftermath is skillfully crafted and utterly pointless. The smoothly assembled film features real archival footage, futzed footage, and actors who stand in as talking heads–Bush’s speechwriter, the retired head of security, the forensics expert, etc. It’s all perfectly convincing, but I am at a loss why anybody thought this film was worth making.
After a first-act buildup in which we see real footage of President Bush giving a speech at a Chicago hotel besieged by protesters, he is gunned down, JFK-style, by a sniper. What happens next isn’t as much conjecture but history slightly tweaked; the murder isn’t a jumping-off point for wild speculation, but serves as metaphor instead. After the President expires, the usual suspects are put into stress positions, Cheney is itching to attack a middle eastern country, and the Patriot Act is extended. Sound familiar?
In the press notes, Range talks about trying to create “an opportunity to arouse discussion about the impact of 9/11 on American life,” but he also wanted the film to “show the pernicious effects of violence” and have it be “relatively balanced and not overly partisan.” Seems to me that 9/11 itself furnished us with every opportunity we ever needed to talk about 9/11, and anybody interested in the pernicious effects of violence just has to turn on CNN. And what’s the point of making a movie with this much potential for commentary, and aim for a “relatively balanced” point of view? Death of a President is wasted opportunity that banks on shock value alone, with nothing to add to the discussion. Opens October 27.
Did you know? War is hell. Soldiers kill enemies and civilians alike. In Iraq, American troops torture and murder innocents; many of the soldiers have serious doubts that they are indeed fighting for freedom and democracy. When they return to civilian life, they find themselves physicially, psychologically, and spiritually wounded, and they struggle to adapt. Their government does little to care for its veterans.
If any of this is news to you, The Ground Truth should come as a timely revelation. If it isn’t–if you’ve heard these things before, perhaps because you’ve read the right book, because you’ve been to war yourself, because you’re a conscientious objector or you’ve seen All Quiet on the Western Front, Full Metal Jacket, The Thin Red Line,Winter Soldier, or dozens of other anti-war movies, then The Ground Truth won’t offer much beyond updating the hideous truth with the latest sand-swept images from Baghdad, the latest mangled and anguished faces of returning soldiers. It is the latest in a growing series of documentaries that ought to be seen by anyone who still supports the war–but since it’s playing in art house theaters rather than on network TV, the audience will doubtless consist largely of the proverbial choir.
Directed by Patricia Foulkrod, the film is well-made, well-intentioned, and features veterans who show tremendous courage speaking out about what they did in Iraq, and what it did to them. These are harrowing stories of guilt and horror. Every war produces them, but in this one in particular, home front support seems to begin and end with yellow magnets. Lied to by their recruiters, turned into killers by their drill sergeants, sent into impossible situations by their superiors, and tossed aside by their government–these soldiers’ stories deserve to be told and heard. It’s an old saw, but so is war: if the film changes just one mind, perhaps it was already worth it. The Ground Truth ought to show in classrooms and outside of army recruiting stations.
Welcome to my site — I'm glad you're here. I’m a writer, editor, translator, traveler, web designer, photographer, critic, storytelling consultant, and social entrepreneur. I’ve published two novels and a book of film criticism, founded Germany's first online literary journal, the writer's community Fictionaut, and West Africa's first vegetarian food service. I graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Ph.D. in English and have lived in New York City, Wiesbaden, Germany, New Orleans, and the Dominican Republic. I currently divide my time between Dakar and Berlin. You've come to the right place to find out more about me and my projects.