Matt Damon In Iraq, Robert Pattinson in New York and a Feisty Teen in England Top the New Movies This Week
Films about the Iraq war have won awards but not big audiences. Now with a new one starring Matt Damon just arrived, there are three in theatres, each with a different angle on the war. There’s competition, though, from a pack of movies about teens, young love and families in turmoil.
Good on Paul Greengrass. He’s applied his high-energy Jason Bourne movies style to a bigger purpose in this passionate and angry look at the Iraq war. He shows how the Americans’ lied about weapons of mass destruction, makes George Bush look ridiculous by replaying his famous “we have prevailed” announcement and follows it immediately with the huge mistake by his main man on the ground that triggered the insurgency and factional fighting. All this comes in an exciting action movie. Matt Damon plays a soldier hunting for those weapons but encountering only doubts. When every sure-thing lead turns up empty, he dares to ask who is providing the faulty “intel?” He’s told to just keep quiet and do his job. Of course he doesn’t. What he eventually finds pretty well blows the rationale for the war to bits and exposes both incompetence and infighting among the occupiers. Much of this has been told before in documentaries and may now get to a wider audience in this thriller format. It’s not perfect. With so much political content, the film is short on emotional connection. Also you already have to know the story to get some of the details, a politician, for instance, clearly based on Ahmed Chalabi the Iraqi who lured the Americans into the war and was active again just last week during the elections. Or the woman New York Times reporter portrayed here (for legal reasons) as a Wall Street Journal scribe. Greg Kinnear as an unctuous U.S. man in charge and Brendan Gleeson as a disapproving C.I.A. operative are in the strong cast alongside a fine group of middle-eastern actors.
(The Dunbar, 5th Avenue, Tinseltown and other area theatres). 3 ½ out of 5
THE HURT LOCKER:
The big winner at the Academy Awards is back again at a couple of theatres. This one is practically apolitical about the Iraq war. It doesn’t delve into the reasons, the right or wrong that people have to study to be able to debate. It traffics in breathless suspense watching closely as a group of U.S. soldiers search out and dismantle bombs. In scene after scene, one man goes out to disarm a device, never knowing whether there’s a timer ticking down or a guy nearby wielding a remote to set it off.
It’s fiction but feels absolutely authentic. The writer spent time embedded with squads like this. Instead of debating this war, the film focuses on one lead character, played by Jeremy Renner as an adrenaline junkie. For some, of course, that’s the thrill and the attraction of war itself. Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for her directing and Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Guy Pearce show up in small roles. Filmed in Jordan, and (a few later scenes) in Vancouver.
(5th Avenue and the Hollywood 3 in Surrey). 4 out of 5
THE GHOST WRITER:
I finally caught up to this one because it’s also Iraq-related. And because it’s very good. Robert Harris must really hate Tony Blair. He’s a former reporter in England who used to support the former Prime Minister and later turned against him over the war. He wrote a scathing novel and then this script. Pierce Brosnan plays an ex-PM much like Blair, holed up in a beach house in Massachusetts and recounting stories for his memoirs. Ewan McGregor plays the writer hired to fashion them into a book. Like his predecessor who died mysteriously, he’s soon tracking down some dangerous hidden information. Roman Polanski directs us smoothly along a twisting story line of intrigue and political misconduct. This is an intellectual thriller, a bit too slow and not as gripping as the better Hitchcock films but certainly in that league.
(5th Avenue and Tinseltown) 3 1/2 out of 5
Last year we got An Education, a nifty little film about a teenage girl learning some hard lessons growing up in England. Now, step down the class system a few rungs and enjoy this somewhat similar tale set in a public housing project, or council flat, not far from London.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis is natural, endearing and tough as a 15-year-old who’s ready anytime to tell you to sod off (only in stronger words). She’s bored, alienated, and has dreams of becoming a dancer but few real options. Her mother bugs her, prefers to party and brings home a new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) who also takes (and follows through on) an interest in her. The sex scene is hot. Clearly she’s in for a harsh lesson too, both in that relationship and her artistic ambitions. This is a strong, very direct and completely unsentimental study of an aggressive but lost young woman trying to find her place in the world. A trio of attempts at freeing a horse at a gypsy camp adds a rare symbolic element while the bulk of the film, including a late sequence with revenge potential, is straight-forward social realism. It’s sharply directed by Andrea Arnold, who last year made an equally well-observed study of life in a Scottish housing project, Red Road.
(Tinseltown) 4 out of 5.
This is one of the strangest documentaries you’ll ever see and it’s utterly fascinating. And at times, hard to watch. Kimberly Reed tells her own story of returning (from New York City) to “prime beef country” in Helena, Montana for her 20-year high school reunion. Back then she was a man, and a star quarterback. Surprisingly, her old friends and schoolmates easily accept her gender change. “We’ve all changed,” says one.
There’s friction though with one of her brothers, a deep sibling rivalry that dates back all the way to pre-school. It’s now compounded by his frequent talk about a head injury he suffered as a young man. His self-absorbed issues completely take over the film. Wisely Reed lets it change course along with him because there is a major surprise coming. Unlike some reviewers I won’t spoil it. The camera captures scenes of blissful happiness, gut-wrenching arguments and even bursts of violence. This is an astounding portrait of a family, dressed up with home movies from the past and with startling scenes from today at its centre.
(Vancity Theatre) 4 out of 5
In this gap between Twilight films, both of the co-stars offer up change-of-pace side-projects. Kristen Stewart’s comes next week (The Runaways). This is Robert Pattinson’s, wherein he ditches Edward Cullen and tries for a full-on James Dean vibe in New York City. He’s sullen, angry at his cold, distant father (Pierce Brosnan), smokes, reads poetry and claims to be “undecided.” About what? “Everything.” Obviously he’s ready to fall in love, which he does with a smart young college student (Emilie de Ravin, from TV’s Lost).
The script rather thickly lays on the difficulties in their way. Both are damaged by deaths in their family. She’s the daughter of a grieving and controlling cop (Chris Cooper) who just happens to be the one who tossed him into jail one night for a drunken bender. Romancing her starts as a bit of revenge on her father and naturally brings repercussions later on. That’s nothing, though, compared to the big calamity yet to come. For most it’s a shock. Some claim they could see it coming. Unlikely. It’s that extreme. It turns what was a generally well-written, bittersweet love story into an all-out weepie. This one’s for teen girls, fans of romance novels and anyone who likes a good cry.
(At theatres all over) 2 ½ out of 5
OUR FAMILY WEDDING:
You can thank Tyler Perry for this growing movie trend. He’s made a series of popular comedies about middle class blacks in the U.S. and now others are going after the audience he identified. This one also brings in Latinos.
A young couple (America Ferrera, of TV’s Ugly Betty and Lance Gross) plan to marry before heading to Asia with Doctors Without Borders. Her Latino family doesn’t welcome a black son-in-law, and a non-Catholic at that. His father, played by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, is a radio host with his own prejudices. It doesn’t help that the night before they officially meet, her dad tows his dad’s car from an illegal parking spot. The film is a comedy that revels both in contrived set-ups like that and inter-racial biases. Also stereotypes, one of which leads to a ridiculous sequence in which a goat gets hopped up on Viagra. (Don’t ask). Oddly, although the goat disrupts the wedding celebration, it does so only briefly and disappears before you know it. Although they unwisely started the gag, the writers couldn’t find a way to exploit it for many laughs. Between bouts of such tomfoolery, the film gets into some worthy discussions about race, tolerance and respect. Only briefly, though.
(Tinseltown) 2 out of 5
Also playing …
SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE:
I haven’t seen this one. I went to Green Zone which previewed at the same time. Montreal’s Jay Baruchel stars in a common fantasy among young men. He plays a nerdy type who dreams of winning a totally hot babe as his girlfriend. Surprise, a blonde with a perfect body, bubbly personality, a law degree and her own business (played by Alice Eve) does fall in love with him. Now he has to clean himself up and make himself worthy. As you might expect from a contemporary American comedy written by the creators of the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine the results are two sided. Or as Variety put it: “This appealingly cast movie seesaws from unlikely thoughtfulness to imbecilic vulgarity.”
(At theatres all over)