TOM’S MOVIE REVIEWS SINCE MAY
*** Superior Film
** Solid Effort
* Same ole
# Sleep Aid
***A MAN ESCAPED (1957) – I decided to try another Robert Bresson film after getting enjoyment from PICKPOCKET last time. The setting is World War II, our hero is a French resistance member in prison and dying to get out. The plan and the time that it takes to find a way out are the gist of the movie. It’s all in style and tension and Bresson serves up another winner.
**ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969) – French Resistance again, but this time from my pal Melville, of Le Samurai fame. The Nazis were not kind to the Frenchies that didn’t play ball. It follows the journey of a resistance fighter raising money and pulling schemes. Like the Andy Garcia movie I review later, it’s uplifting and scary watching a guy trying to get his country back.
*BREACH (2007) – Based on a true story of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent turncoat in bed with the Russians. Chris Cooper plays Hanssen effectively. Ryan Phillipe is cast to annoy Dude as the young aide planted to get the goods on Hanssen. Cooper/Hanson’s intelligence and observation are so keen that he proves to Phillipe that he can tell when he’s lying and soon thereafter fingers him for snooping around in his office. That’s on the first day and it makes Phillipe’s quest look hopeless. But after that scene, Cooper never really calls the aide out on any of his lies or suspects any of the subterfuge. The setup is solely to make us uneasy in their confrontations rather than introduce a real character trait that will play out later in the plot. The actor that plays Phillipe’s wife is supposed to be East German but her accent sounds Scottish when she bothers to use it, and her looks are not the least bit European. I have to comment on the politics. William Hurt already starred in the TV version of Hanssen’s tale and while I’m sure that would have been enough usually, this movie arrives so that Hanssen’s personally conservative manner can be construed to be a part of his overall deficiencies. He chastises Phillipe for noticing the beauty of another woman and pressures him to bring his non-catholic wife to mass. He also comments on not liking to see women wear pants and disparages Hilary Clinton. Only a rotten spy could think these things. CIA spy Aldrich Ames gave something like $5,000 to the Democrat National Committee and that didn’t get mentioned in his TV movie starring Timothy Hutton. The reliable Laura Linney is kind of wasted as the boss that puts Phillipe up to all this. The rarely seen Anne Archer plays Cooper’s wife. Overall it’s probably a little smarter than the typical piece in this genre, but there is nothing new in approach. It’s just a matter of waiting around for the capture.
*THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006) – We have moles in the CIA too, but before we get to that director, Robert DeNiro shows us the early history of the CIA through a young agent played by Matt Damon. It follows along pretty nicely for the most part, but becomes too much near the end when the web encompasses Damon’s family. Did we really need such melodrama? Good turns by John Turturro as the loyal aide, Michael Gambom as his college professor, and Alec Baldwin as his contact in the FBI. It has all the style and presence of a great movie, but the plot eventually gets in the way. No amount of makeup makes Matt Damon look 50 years old. The scene with his grown son makes them look like school chums. Like BREACH it begins with a flashback. Does no one read Syd Field? I guess it’s rare to see any biographical movie not flashback. WALK THE LINE is another recent example.
**THE LOST CITY (2005) – Actor/Director Andy Garcia is entirely out of step. How else do you explain that this biographical movie doesn’t begin with a flashback? But that’s not his only deviation. Unlike regular Hollywood that embraces Castro and idolizes Che, Garcia makes a movie about what frauds they were. He doesn’t sugar coat Batista and his corruption, but instead shows how that corruption brought about an opportunist Castro who proved even worse. Since the OCEANS movies are more about attitude than character and since Garcia hasn’t made any other A list movies in ten years, I forgot what an effective actor he is. And if you think about him being 2 years older than Alec Baldwin and still capable of playing leading men, you wonder if he hasn’t been blacklisted for his political beliefs. Maybe he’ll get a documentary in 20 years about this injustice. The acting is uneven in the other performances and cameos by Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray are entertaining but although disruptive. Hoffman just always seems like he’s acting to me even when he’s entertaining. Murray is really quite a hoot, although there is no real purpose for his character and the tone changes in any scene he’s in. It’s funny what passes as bravery these days. Michael Moore is considered brave for making movie’s that aligns with every Hollywood prejudice. Sure sure the Cuban revolutionaries had some missteps, but this is wonderful health care. Actual bravery is portraying Che in a negative light when your peers think the opposite. I mean OCEANS director, Steven Soderbergh is making his next movie about Che and I don’t think it will be about how he liked shooting people for the kick it gave him. I expect a wonderful little movie from Soderbergh, directed much more skillfully with a softer poetic side of the brute, pure fiction of course but a boon to those T-shirt makers. Garcia’s movie is a little long, but the cinematography is first rate. And you root for Garcia the whole way especially as he puts himself in peril by opposing the revolution. This movie gives you the cost of utopianism, the people trampled, the families split apart, the businesses lost all so the worker’s paradise can begin. It’s a grown up movie about what really happens in socialism and the cost of romanticizing it.
*SUPER SIZE ME (2004) – If you need to learn that eating McDonalds is bad for you maybe this is educational. For me, it’s just funny to watch him eat Big Macs and act surprised at the results. Seeing his vital signs wither after a month of McNuggets shows the resilience of the human body more than anything else. The implication in the movie is that the grim reaper had a hand on Morgan’s shoulder. But we all know that people eat like this for years without dying. Maybe I could get famous by making a movie about how taking a bath makes you wet.
**LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006) – I think patriotism can boil down to one moment in this film. Were you happy the first time Americans bombed the Island? I found the Japanese soldiers very compelling and their challenge daunting. But when the bombs fell I could only say, sorry boys, you were born in the wrong century. It’s a tribute to Eastwood’s filmmaking that he didn’t let the sympathy that would be very easy to feel for individual soldiers translate into a hope that they’d beat back the Americans. And the Japanese are sympathetic. They don’t want to be on the island either. Some of them have been to the United States and they remember it fondly. They expect to die and want to do so honorably. The material surprises me considering Eastwood said that his friendship ended with Ronald Reagan after Reagan visited the Bitburg Cementary in 1986. Does this movie mean that Eastwood is ready to forgive our enemies in World War II or just ones that bombed us in the first place? Overall the movie is a little long. There isn’t much going on. We see flashbacks on the two main characters and learn a little about a few others. It’s not a movie that many people would have attempted. I felt that it was a solid effort overall, although I think I would have nominated FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS instead.
**LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) – I got the impression from marketing and nominations that this was some sort of intense drama when it’s actually a sly and subtle comedy. The main characters played by Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet are the Little Children of the title. Both have child/adult relationships with their spouses, Wilson especially, and that frustration leads to their eventual affair. The subplot of child molester Jackie Earle Haley is also an example of adult infantilism as he still lives with and is cared for by his mother. His mother is worried about Haley. She sends him off on a date with a disturbed but otherwise sweet girl. He’s going to need a new mother when his real mother dies, she reckons. The date goes well at first. The two talk easily and the troubled girl opens up. He’s gentle with her and they quickly form a bond. What happens next only happens when a writer is having fun with us. And he’s having a lot of fun on this one. The last part of the movie is just nothing but symbolism on top of symbolism. There’s the obvious breaking of the porcelain kids. Haley’s solution in how to be a good boy made a bell ring in symbolville. And that the leading man misses his clandestine meeting with Winslet due to a skateboarding accident isn’t without meaning either. It’s almost like the movie opens with the children being sent out to play and although they all get dirty and hurt, they all come right back home to the parents.
*THE SENTINEL (2006) – It’s today’s generic modern action/suspense movie. Take a decent idea and fire it up into an interesting plot and then start adding elements that make the whole thing a cartoon and somewhere settle for an ending that’s forced, hollow, or uninspiring. Secret Service Agent Michael Douglas saved Reagan’s life and was subsequently passed over for promotion. Currently Douglas is taking it out on the country by banging the First Lady (Kim Basinger). Since we know that Douglas is capable of such treachery then it shouldn’t be surprising that his former best friend and fellow agent, Kiefer Sutherland, hates him because he suspects that Douglas was banging his wife too. That’s not even the plot just the background. The plot has some other secret service agent conspiring to kill the President and frame Douglas for it. So Douglas has to escape the clutches of Sutherland to clear his name. Chase, gunplay, explosion and Douglas gets to Basinger who believes him and she eventually tells Sutherland that Douglas is a good man even if he’s capable of banging a first lady. Would you be surprised to learn that Douglas makes it all the way to Toronto on the run and then almost single handedly saves the President’s life? Would you further believe with a line or two of dialogue that Kiefer suddenly believes that Douglas didn’t bang his wife and that they could be friends again? Somewhere in there we also get to believe that Eva Longira is an agent too. Still it’s entertaining enough once you forgive the writing shortcuts.
*NOTES FROM A SCANDAL (2006) – Cate Blanchet plays the free spirited teacher coming to a new school and Judy Dench plays the veteran that takes her under the wing. Though British the conflict is somewhat topical with the U.S. school system. Blanchett shows that she can play more than graceful beauty. Dame Judy has that presence you expect. Those two make the movie more interesting than its mediocre material would let on.