Battle Los Angeles, Mars Needs Moms, Red Riding Hood, Of Gods and Men, Film Socialism
It was a terrific night for Canadian films at the Genie awards last night because the results were absolutely right. Incendies won the most (8) including best picture while Barney’s Version won seven. Perfect.
Except for one Cannes honor already gained, I don’t see any winners among this week’s new releases. Here’s the list.
Of Gods and Men 4
Battle Los Angeles 3 stars
Mars Needs Moms 3
Film Socialism 2 1/2
Red Riding Hood 2
Faces and Cinema --
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES: It’s not science fiction. There’s nothing speculative and philosophical here. This is a straight war movie with almost non-stop action and a handy digest of cliches. Imagine this: Aaron Eckhart plays a square-jawed Sgt. Rock type with a bad incident in Iraq on his record. He‘s about to retire but is impelled to stay on for a special mission serving under a platoon leader fresh out of officer training school. Who do you suppose will freeze when the going gets tough and who will yell at him to make a decision? Their squad is the usual assortment of stock characters but we hardly get to know them. Only the Latino woman (Michelle Rodriguez) stands out because, well, she is a Latino chick and tough at that.
They go on a rescue mission to extract a family from deepest Santa Monica before the air force bombs the neighborhood. There’s an “infestation” of space aliens there (and in a few other cities around the world). They’ve come to grab our resources, which judging by earth’s own history of colonization, a TV commentator grimly asserts, also means wiping out the indigenous population. That’s pretty well it in this film for expounding ideas. The U.S. is under attack, Eckhart gives a rousing speech to the troop and exciting street battles and lots of expertly rendered destruction follow. A reader’s comment to a magazine website got it exactly right: “Movies like this appeal to the young at heart, the kids who played with Star Wars action figures and made up their own scenarios in their minds. Sometimes we don't need a story; sometimes all we need are the toys.” (Scotiabank, Oakridge and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
OF GODS AND MEN: A quietly haunting film that’s as different from Battle LA as can be. Some will find it slow but should think of it as contemplative, spiritual and intelligent. The French have. They made it a big hit in France and awarded it the second-highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Eight monks at a monastery in Algeria try to ignore a growing threat from Muslim fundamentalists and keep up their spiritual and secular routines. They pray, sing hymns and study under their leader Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) while Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale) provides free medical care to the Muslim villagers outside their compound. Those good relations with the locals don’t help when a rebel leader comes demanding drugs because one of his followers was badly injured in a murderous raid on a construction camp. When Brother Christian refuses we know what will come. It’s only a matter of time.
The monks pray some more and debate whether to go or stay. They all have their individual spin on the question and the discussion centers on the true nature of duty. Brother Christian’s devotion wins out and a final meal, staged like the “last supper” is stunning. Each man stares quietly, his mind at ease, his eyes slightly wet with tears, while a cassette tape of Swan Lake provides an extra emotional punch. It’s not known what happened to those monks but the film, based on a real incident during a civil war in Algeria in 1996, dares to imagine a bit of the ending. It also takes pains to say it is not anti-Muslim, but pro-dedication without extremism. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 4 out of 5
MARS NEEDS MOMS: Don’t worry. It’s safe to take your kids to this one. You might even have a good time, and they definitely will. (Unless they’ve got mommy separation issues. Then you’d better be careful). This film is far better than you might expect, having been somewhat inspired by a cheapo 1967 movie. The immediate source is a children’s book by Berke Breathed, best known for the Bloom Country comic strip. His 40-page story has been widely expanded and changed by director Simon Wells, H.G.’s great grandson, and producer Robert Zemeckis, with the same motion-capture animation technique he used in Polar Express and other films. It’s now a giant action adventure and no longer a simple tale for small children.