In the Valley of Elah (US, 2007)

The number of ‘Iraq’ films coming out of Hollywood is quite astonishing, especially as only the gung-ho Green Berets was produced during the Vietnam war. Unsurprisingly these are not doing well at the box office; even the action based The Kingdom. There are not many nations that would queue up to see themselves criticised. However, it is crucially important that a mirror is held up to America as they tromp thoughtlessly about the world. And the fact that these are American films does show that many in America are not insensitive to the destruction wreaked by their military.

Whilst Charley Wilson’s War was confused, Elah knows exactly what’s it’s saying and I can think of few films that have such a devastating final shot. The rest of it is great too; brilliantly performances and generally well paced. My only criticism is that Vietnam is, via Lee Jones’ vet, held up as something honourable; or maybe that’s just in contrast with Iraq.

I thought Crash, Haggis’ previous film as director, was great; this may be even better.

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Charley Wilson’s War (US, 2007)

To say this mess is confusing is an understatement. It ranges from a condemnation of America’s lack of reconstruction of Iraq to a celebration of childlike Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Presumably the latter is such a retro-representation of 3rd world peasants that it’s meant to be satire; read it as you will.

Even if we take the film as a critique of US intervention it still fails to cohere. The script seems to pretend its one-liners are satiric and all the performances are off-key as if they didn’t know what tone to strike.

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The Roaring Twenties (US, 1939)

Fascinating gangster movie that is linked with newsreel like montages. Sympathetic portrayal of the gangster (though his psychosis is also evident), brilliantly played by Cagney. Great support from Bogart. Has a modern sensibility. The Wall Street crash montage is a technical tour de force.

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Shortbus (US, 2006)

Has a reputation for a film that uses hardcore sex in a non-sensationalist fashion; a bit of a contradiction in terms, maybe, but it certainly wears its ‘sex’ lightly. Unfortunately for me I didn’t find the narrative particularly engaging.

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (US, 2004)

This has fantastic production design and the sexist banter between Law and Paltrow serve to humanise the CGI. Not sure why this did so badly at the box office as there’s enough thrills to keep the narrative going. Maybe the cod-RAF, stiff Brit routines didn’t play well.

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The Passenger (It-Ger-Spain, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)

I’m a fan of arthouse but is it that Antonioni’s portentous (slow) and (would be/maybe is) style simply feels outdated or are my brain cells not what they used to be. The Passenger‘s interesting, and Nicholson’s always watchable, but does it really take 2 hours to tell this tale. As I say, maybe I’m getting impatient in my middle age (do I really have time to watch this when I’ve already seen it?) or maybe the 21st century isn’t friendly to this sort of arthouse. Is it me or is it the film?

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (US, 1951)

Heart in the right place – the stupidity of the military and the threat of nuclear annihilation. However, comes across as a rather pedantic piece.

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Sense and Sensibility (UK-US, 1995)

I should know better than to watch period drama. Who cares about the bourgeoisie other than the bourgeoisie? Did this version have the purists shaking their sticks? Very soap opera.

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I Am Legend (US 2007)

Will Smith is terrific and this is a very effective thriller. But what’s with the deus ex machina? Did the writers have so little respect for their resolution that they didn’t even bother to explain how Anna saves the Smith character? Or are we actually meant to believe in the ‘act of god’?

However, enjoy the movie the post-disaster New York and Smith’s performance.

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Silent Running (US, 1972)

Didn’t like this when I saw it 25+ years ago and didn’t like it today. I’d assumed the ecological theme would be to do with the inadvertent destruction of nature; however, it was a warning against the utopian idea of technology giving us everything. Believeable in the ’70s; not now. Great special effects, it’s directed by Douglas Trumbell, but Dern’s one-note (concerned agony) performance cannot carry the film.

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