September 2008 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 09/27/2008
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in September of 2008. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
Director Spike Lee brings us his second big budget “accessible” movie (after 2006’s Inside Man)…but it’s still a Spike Lee Joint with this one. Hector Negron (Laz Alonso) is a postal service worker living in 1983 Harlem, New York, who is about to retire. One day though, a German man comes up to his booth attempting to buy stamps. Hector recognizes the man from his past and he shoots the man dead with an old German Luger. Later, a rookie reporter named Tim Boyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) comes to the crime scene, but all of the reporters have come and gone. NYPD Detective Antonio “Tony” Ricci (John Turturro) is the only cop left on the scene, and Tim talks him into tagging along with Detective Dillard (John Earl Jelks) and Detective Haggerty (Al Palagonia) while they investigate Hector’s apartment. What they find there is the head of a 450-year-old statue that’s been missing from Italy since 1944, according to Dr. Everton Brooks (Curt Lowens), a historian whom the detectives take it to for examination. Tim comes back to see Hector to get the real story behind the murder and the statue head. This is where the real story begins. Negron, who is a Puerto Rican, along with unofficial leader 2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke), ladies man Sergeant Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy), and simple-minded Private First Class Sam Train (Omar Benson Miller) are members of the 92nd Infantry division. They are nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers,” and they are doing a tour of duty in Tuscany, Italy in 1944 during the Italian Campaign of World War II. The regiment was supposed to cross a river on the Nazi Gustev line, but a surprise German attack takes out many of them. To make things worse, when they radio their white commanding officer, Captain Nokes (Walton Goggins, FX’s “The Shield”), to tell him and his assistant, Lieutenant Birdsong (Tory Kittles), that they have made it across the river and that they need artillery support…Nokes doesn’t believe them. The large, kind-hearted Train rescues a small, 9-year-old orphan boy named Angelo Torancelli (Matteo Sciabordi), who calls Train “The Chocolate Giant.” Train won’t give the boy up, but fortunately, they run into a Tuscany villa of welcoming people. Fascist Ludovico (Omero Antonutti) would like them to go away because they don’t want any more German soldiers to come in, but his adult daughter Renata (Valentina Cervi) and village healer Natalina (Lydia Biondi) are a little more gracious to them. Ludovico has cause for his concern because the villa was the site of a brutal massacre by the Nazis for hiding partisans. One German soldier, Hans Brundt (Jan Pohl), was so sickened by the bloodshed that he managed to help Angelo escape, but not his brother Arturo (Leonardo Borzonasca.) Hans has gone AWOL, and the Nazis want him back, but they have to deal with a band of guerilla fighters, led by Peppi “The Great Butterfly” Grotta (Pierfrancesco Favino) and his shady right-hand man, Rodolfo (Sergio Albelli), who are persistently attacking the Nazis. Angelo freaks out by the arrival of Peppi and his men who’ve captured Hans, confusing the American soldiers. They are also confused by the fact that the villagers have accepted them as people, not as blacks…yet they still have to fight in the “white man’s army” who don’t allow them to have any civil rights. Author James McBride wrote the 2003 novel of the same name that this movie is based upon (he also wrote the screenplay.) I liked how Lee started the movie and then did the movie flashback trick not long into it, but there were parts that I didn’t like. One involved the casting of John Leguizamo as Enrico, a dealer of Nazi art vacationing in Italy, who happens practically to knock the main storyline into action. At the end…when Hector is defended by lawyer Zana Wilder (Lakeview Terrace’s Kerry Washington)…it feels rushed and incomplete. This is despite its 2 hour and 40 minute runtime! For a serious war movie, it have its share of levity (almost in the wrong places though.) I have to say that overall…I liked it. I’m not a big war pic fan, but it kept my interest throughout. I was surprised that there wasn’t any of Lee’s conveyer belt “floating” shots in it. Miller and Sciabordi had a cute chemistry that I liked. Maybe it’s a miracle that a war movie that was long like this one and pounded in the social commentary like a hammer still ended up being a movie that I enjoyed watching.
Other critics (and audiences apparently) haven’t been the biggest fans of movies that portray the Iraq War…but this one may possibly at least please audiences. For one thing…except for one brief spot of gunplay at the very beginning…it doesn’t have any battle scenes. Three soldiers who have all suffered injuries journey back to the United States while on leave from the Iraq War. Private Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams) will be on leave because of a wound in the leg from an improvised explosive device (IED.) Her boyfriend and fellow soldier, Randy Klinger, was killed saving her, and she wants to bring his parents, Tom (John Diehl) and Jeanie (Annie Corley), a valuable guitar that he stole from a guitar shop in Las Vegas. Her hope is that they will fall in love with her and welcome her into her home. Sgt. TK Poole (Michael Peña) will be on leave because he was struck in the junk by a piece of shrapnel that may have possibly rendered him impotent. He is also going to Vegas because he hopes that he can get his little soldier to stand at attention with the help of a Vegas sex worker, because he believes that his fiancée only cares about his sexual prowess (according to him, they would have nothing to talk about other than their fun in bed.) Colee and TK are only on leave for 30 days, but older reservist Sgt. Fred Cheever (Tim Robbins) is headed home to St. Louis for good thanks to a non-battle related injury (a Porta-John slipped off a forklift and landed on his back…crushing three of his vertebrae.) They land in New York, but their connecting flights end up canceled because of a power outage, so Fred decides to rent a car, and the other two soldiers tag along for the ride, sharing expenses along the way. Fred is excited to see his wife Pat (Molly Hagan) and teenage son Scott (Mark L. Young), but is thrown aback when Pat asks him for a divorce (because she is happy being alone) and Scott has been accepted into Stanford University, but he needs just $20,000 more within three weeks in order to pay for the tuition. Fred continues traveling with Colee and TK to get his head together and figure out how to get that tuition money. Many wacky hijinks ensue along this cross between this year’s Stop-Loss and 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. Okay…maybe they aren’t that wacky…but this is the first Iraq War-themed movie that I’ve seen so far with a sense of humor. Is this movie realistic? Very unlikely…but I’m guessing that that’s why movies like In the Valley of Elah ($6.8 million), Redacted ($60,000), The Kingdom ($47.4 million), Rendition ($9.7 million), Lions for Lambs ($15 million), or Home of the Brave ($49,000)…the last of which is the serious version of this movie…have failed. The Illusionist director Neil Burger directed this pic and co-wrote the screenplay (along with former “Saturday Night Live” writer Dirk Wittenborn), which is why it seems to have a more comedic slant. The three leads look like they are having fun with the odd plotlines (especially McAdams.) While there is some social commentary (a scene in the middle of the movie has them staring at a Middle Eastern family while they drive alongside them), this is the comic relief escape from all of the war movie tension. Hey…if it bombs, maybe it will be a signal from the American movie going public that they are almost as sick of Iraq War movies as they are of the actual war.
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