“We call them the American Taliban,” says a grim faced Afghani elder to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill. The man is speaking of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an arm of the military that lead a night raid on his village killing his daughter in law and her children. The United States had claimed that his village harbored terrorists but, as the Afghani man decries, “if children are terrorists then we are all terrorists.” Such is the bleak world presented in Jeremy Scahill’s documentary Dirty Wars – a world which many would rather avoid seeing. But with the unflinching gaze of Scahill and director Rick Rowley in a mere 87 minutes what was once hidden becomes painfully clear. The film, which is based on Scahill’s book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield released last April, chronicles Scahill’s attempts to peer beyond the world the US Military wants him to see and into the shifty realm of US counter terrorism operations. Scahill begins in small villages in Afghanistan trying to figure out the source of the constant night raids – NATO reports often blame the Taliban yet his own findings suggest something else – and slowly expands his investigation into the world as a whole traveling to Yemen and southern Africa. Read More
Though many will probably hail The Loneliest Planet as a quiet, gripping drama, describing it with words like “contemplative” and “meditative,” what it really is, is a tedious overlong film with too many shots of the mountains. In writer/director Julia Loktev’s new film Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries) and Hani Furstenberg play a young couple, engaged to be married, who decide to take a backpacking trip through the Georgian mountains. Why exactly these mountains isn’t clear. They don’t really seem the dare devil type – Furstenberg’s character is actually kind of clumsy – and the Georgian mountains don’t particularly strike one as a place for sightseeing. They have their fair share of striking scenery, which Loktev is only too eager to capture, yet, after the first forty-five minutes the viewer already feels exhausted by this lonely environment so one can only imagine how the characters must feel. Whatever the reason, they are there, hiking through the mountains with Bidzinia Gujabidze as their guide. The mountains are a green but barren place with little to see and less to do, so very little happens in the course of the movie, save one or two small incidents which have a large impact on the character’s relationships. Here, finally, is something the viewer can enjoy. When, halfway to the end, the incident (shall we call it) does finally happen, our mouths salivate; finally some food for thought in this barren wasteland. And delicious food it is. The tiny incident, is realistically the kind of thing that could change the course of an entire relationship. It’s the kind of thing, as the film’s trailer rightly puts it, that makes one question just how well one knows someone. On top of this it calls into question numerous assumptions about gender roles and what society expects of each sex, but the problem remains that it’s only food for thought. It’s like conceptual art or a Duchamp ready-made piece: It’s lots of fun to talk about but not so much fun to watch. Yet, this is exactly what Loktev wants – forces – the viewer to do. The result is less a movie going experience and more a conversation piece; for some this may work, for others it may not.
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If there is one thing that End of Watch is not, it’s cliché. What is it is a highly entertaining fast paced ride-along with two wise cracking, ass kicking LA cops. Played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala are two of LAPD’s best – or worst depending on whom you ask. They’re the kind of guys you want on the case if you’re in danger but not the kind of guys you want to work with; they’ll run into a burning building to try and pull you out but they’re a little trigger happy and aren’t so fond of paper work. “This is a ticket book,” explains their sergeant, “use it.” “I would,” jokes Zavala, “Except I don’t know how to write. So…” These characters are a stark contrast to writer/director David Ayer’s previous films (Training Day, Street Kings), which often focus on corruption within the system. The two are pretty good guys and the most they share with Denzel Washington’s corrupt cop character from Training Day is a love of wiseassery. The worst that can be said of them is that they may enjoy doing their jobs – busting people that is – just a bit too much. Aside from this, the two are incredibly likeable and the chemistry between them is fantastic. After 20 minutes of riding a long in their car, laughing at their jokes, and enjoying their banter it’s hard not to love ‘em...
2 Days in New York is the hilarious sister film to Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris (2007). The two films share a love of snarky fast-talking heroes and revel in the complications of French-American relations. In this film Marion (Julie Delpy) has moved back to New York and is now living with her new boyfriend (Chris Rock) and their two children from previous marriages. Marion is about to have a big art opening so her father (Albert Delpy) and sister (Alexia Landeau) have come to visit, bringing Marion’s ex and Rose’s new boyfriend, Manu (Alexandre Nahon). As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose.
The comic style of 2 Days In New York’s brings to mind the great screwball comedies of Howard Hawkes (His Girl Friday) and Preston Sturges (The Great McGinty) where even as things approach the absurd characters remain bitingly witty and intelligent. Punch lines come and go without a pause for laughter, and even as the film descends into near farce it feels grounded and smart. A wonderful cast populates the screen, each playing characters that are lovable and charming while annoying and mischievous in their own way. Read More
Third movies in a series are generally lackluster and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is no exception. This is not to say that the film is downright bad just that it’s not very good either. Dog Days is a fairly typical Hollywood kids movie so expect the usual: overacting, butt cracks being cause for laughter, and the older generation misunderstanding the younger one. No fart jokes, though, so the film earns points for that.
The film’s main problems stem from its overall lack of narrative direction. To be fair, this is a movie about summer vacation, which has never had very much direction in itself. So, much like a summer vacation, the film plays out in a series of loosely strung together comic vignettes linked by lead character Greg’s (Zachary Gordon) two goals: befriending Holly Hills (Peyton List) and feigning productivity so he can slack off and play video games. But the film never chooses which of these is to be the main plotline until the final third when an actual conflict is introduced. Without a driving force behind them, the first two acts flounder, as what’s at stake isn’t quite clear. Meanwhile, the third act feels rushed with a conflict that’s resolved not twenty minutes after it’s introduced. Read More
If there was ever a film that suffered from trying to outdo its predecessor it is The Dark Knight Rises. The film is so stuffed full of ideas, characters, and plot points that not even Nolan’s gorgeous IMAX imagery can save it, though it does help a bit.
To begin with, the story, itself, is all over the place. Characters appear at random, quickly stating their purpose with thinly veiled expository dialogue or show up to play out emotional scenes with little build up. Each new idea exists only to force the plot towards its end as opposed enriching and expanding the story. So many things are going on at once, all of which seem to be influenced by the poorly explained four year period between the films, that one can’t help but feel a little lost. Read More