Friday, October 27, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

Aside from being one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood has evolved into one of my favorite directors and once again, he doesn't disappoint. I applaud his decision to tell this story and all the people involved, including the two studios that financed it. In telling the true story of the flag raising at Iwo Jima in World War Two, Eastwood doesn't portray the U.S. Government in a patriotic glow but rather a political machine using a simple act of replacing a flag as a rousing manipulative battle cry for the war effort.

The famous photo of the six men raising the flag at Iwo Jima is embedded in our history and the hearts and minds of generations of Americans. When you learn the true story behind that photograph, it paints a very different picture and it's an important story that needed to be told.

Eastwood handles the battle sequences very well and of course, comparisons will be made to "Saving Private Ryan" (Spielberg is one of "Flags" producers). The digital effects are seamless and the action all too realistic. But as Eastwood has shown in many of his films, he is just as deft in the quiet moments, making his points with a poetic dignity.

Death is everywhere on Iwo Jima and the three men from the flag raising group who survive are sent home as heroes to represent patriotism at it's best. The problem is these men don't see themselves as heroes and this story is as heartbreaking as it's stirring. The three survivors are portrayed by Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, and Jesse Bradford. All three are terrific and couldn't be more different in the way they handle the sudden spotlight.

I would recommend staying for the credits as actual photos are shown and in a small way, you can do honor to the men who fought and died on that barren rock.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Little Children

From Director Todd Fields (In The Bedroom), comes another excellent adult drama. Kate Winslet gives one of her best performances as an unsatisfied suburban mother who begins an affair with Patrick Wilson, a man dreaming of a lost adolescence, trying to find his place in an adult world. The film also features a strong performance by Jackie Earl Haley as a convicted child sex offender looking for his identity in a world that reviles him.

A sadness permeates the film as it explores the relationships of these people and the other affected by them, family, friends, and enemies alike. All the characters are damaged to a degree and by the end, one can only imagine hope for at least some of them.

There is heavy stuff here but also flashes of humor, particularly in the 3rd person narration. This is the kind of film that should spark post screening conversation. I overheard someone leaving the theater say "it was like Desperate Housewives meets Happiness". A pretty accurate composite (without the campiness). I wish I had thought of it first.

The Illusionist

Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti are two of the finest actors working today and this film totally showcases their talent. Norton plays a turn of the century "illusionist" in Vienna who angers the crown prince when he renews a romance with his childhood girlfriend (now engaged to the prince), played by Jessica Biel. Giamatti is the police inspector working for the prince who is torn for his admiration for Norton and his duty to the state. Rufus Sewell plays the crown prince and makes an admirable villain.

Norton performs his own magic and illusions with a smooth sleight of hand and both he and Giamatti are at the top of their craft in this game of cat & mouse. Prague substitutes for old Vienna and looks wonderful. The attention to detail truly transports the viewer back in time. The pace of the film is slow but deliberate. This may be a turnoff for some but I still found the film absorbing and easily engaging.

The Departed

Outstanding crime drama from Martin Scorsese, this is easily one of the best films of the year. Based on an excellent Asian film, "Infernal Affairs", this American remake moves the action to Boston but maintains the basic plot of undercover moles in both the police department and the mob.

In his early years, Robert DeNiro served as Scorsese's muse. Now it's Leonardo DeCaprio's turn as he gives his best performance yet in his third film with Scorsese. Playing an undercover cop in the Boston mob, DeCaprio is just sensational, running the gambit of emotions and straining to hold it together under the pressure of discovery. On the other side, we have Matt Damon as a criminal mole in the Boston State Troopers detective division. Damon's character warrants a more restrained performance and while less showy, Damon delivers as well. And of course, in the middle of it all is Jack Nicholson. As crime boss, Frank Costello, Nicholson has his meatiest role in years. He is charming and menacing all at once. He takes the role to the top but never quite over it.

Everyone in a supporting role delivers as well. Mark Wahlberg is ferocious as the wise guy cop with a short fuse and Martin Sheen plays the wise officer-in-charge a notch down from his "President Bartlett". Alec Baldwin channels his "Glengarry Glenn Ross" sales manager into Damon's superior on the police force. And up and coming actress, Vera Faminga, (so good in "Down To The Bone") holds her own among all the testosterone as the woman caught between the two leads.

Scorsese gives a master class in direction with many scenes achieving almost poetic perfection. "The Departed" is thoroughly entertaining. Be warned however, that this is a violent film filled that doesn't hold back on the bloodshed. If that's not a concern, then don't miss it!

Abou this blog

Hello film lovers! As an Upper Eastside resident and film enthusiast, I will be writing "30 second reviews" for films playing in the neighborhood. I have a website called where you can read and post various types of entertainment reviews. My philosophy about the 30 second rule is that the average movie fan doesn't need a multi-page, full length review in order to pick a movie. Most people want a quick idea of what the film is about and if it's worth seeing. Too many reviews these days give away most of the plot and really don't get to the heart of the matter. I try to avoid that. I hope you enjoy these reviews and that they help you make an educated decision on whether to go to the theater, wait for the DVD or skip it altogether.