REVIEW: Restrepo

6 01 2011

We see the situation in Afghanistan all the time on the news, usually only to report that two soldiers have died or that we should just get out now.  It’s been a very impersonal experience for those of us on the homefront, a far cry away from the patriotic surges that struck America back in World War II or even the flag-flying defense after 9/11.

Restrepo,” on the other hand, changes all of that.  It puts a human face on the conflict in Afghanistan by reminding us that it’s not some sort of digital war like on “Call of Duty.”  It’s a real war fought by real people, and the movie probes into their deepest feelings and fears to produce a psychological profile of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan that is truly harrowing.

It’s not easy to follow on an event-by-event basis, and for those not familiar with military jargon, it might be a little bit like watching a foreign language film without subtitles.  But directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hertherington make “Restrepo” a movie of emotions, not a movie of events.  The movie follows a platoon in the Korangal Valley, one of the most dangerous and volatile regions in Afghanistan, and the toll it takes on them physically and mentally.

The events are mildly exciting but they serve a purpose: to illuminate the interviews with the soldiers that survive.  What they say with their words, their faces, and even their silence makes the conflict in Afghanistan so undeniably real that it’s scary.  It could easily become a defining movie of American involvement in the Middle East, and it’s certainly much better to watch than any of the overly cynical fictional films trying to capture a zeitgeist.  “Restrepo” doesn’t have to capture that; the soldiers lived it.  B+

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What To Look Forward To in … July 2010

10 06 2010

People are already calling summer 2010 one of the worst seasons in history.  Ouch.  Does July hold anything in store to turn the tide late in the game?  Let’s take a look.

July 2

M. Night Shyamalan give us his most mainstream movie yet with “The Last Airbender.”  Due to James Cameron’s mildly successful film “Avatar,” the Nickelodeon series opted to use only the last part of its name to avoid confusion (although you could make some good money from dumb moviegoers under the impression they’re seeing “Avatar 2”).  It got the quickie 3D conversion slapped on in the past months, which means I’m sticking to 2D here if I even see it at all. I’m worried that some backlash against the conversion could wind up really hurting this movie. But even before I knew about the added dimension, I couldn’t get myself too excited. No matter how extravagant and enormous they make it look, it’s still a Nickelodeon series. I have mixed feelings for Shyamalan; the only movie of his I actually liked was “The Sixth Sense.” I don’t know anyone in the cast save for Dev Patel, better known as Jamal Malik from “Slumdog Millionaire,” and he may end up being what draws me in to see it.

Sometimes I don’t catch everything when it is initially released, particularly indies.  I want to give them their fair shake, so I’m going to feature movies when they open in my hometown if I missed them before.  The first of these movies is “Solitary Man” starring Michael Douglas and thank heavens it’s not Michael Cera (that’s code for Jesse Eisenberg).  In her glowing review of the movie, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called this, not “Wall Street 2,” Douglas’ best shot for Oscar glory.  The story seems friendly enough and the character seems an Oscar type.  Rounding out the ensemble are Jenna Fischer (“The Office”), Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, and Mary-Louise Parker, so it seems pretty audience friendly too.

July 9

I’ll get to the mainstream fare later.  First, I must cover the indie comedy hit of the summer, “The Kids Are All Right.”  More to come later in an “Oscar Moment,” but expect it to make a splash a la “Little Miss Sunshine” and “(500) Days of Summer.”

Adrien Brody steps back into the horror arena after … let’s just say, going places in “Splice.”  This time, he’s rebooting the “Predator” franchise along with Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace.  “Predators” proudly flashes the name of producer Robert Rodriguez.  But here’s what I want to know – will sequel/reboot/remake fatigue catch up with moviegoers by July and kill this movie?

I’m so excited for the release of “Despicable Me.”  Not because I want to see it, but because I’m so tired of seeing the stupid trailers with every movie I have seen for the past year.  My guess is families will still be choosing “Toy Story 3” over this.  Not even Julie Andrews can save a movie that proudly boasts the participation of an executive producer from the “Ice Age” series as if they had Steven Spielberg.

If you are looking for some shaky-cam horror, “[Rec] 2” comes out.  Strangely enough, I must have missed “[Rec]” 1.  But I did know about the predecessor to “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the big indie of 2010 so far, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Opening in Houston on July 9 is “Restrepo,” the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for documentary features.  It takes a look at the grittiest and most intense location of fighting in Iraq and its effect on the soldiers who fight there.

July 14/16

Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION Inception INCEPTION … AHHHH!!!!!

Meanwhile, opening two days earlier to get out the way is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest blockbuster.  It starts Nicolas Cage as the sorcerer and Jay Baruchel as his apprentice.  I’ve been saying for quite a while now that Baruchel needs a big breakout; maybe he will get it with this once people match his face to the voice in “How to Train Your Dragon.”  On the Nicolas Cage front, the role seems kind of kooky.  Perhaps this is his Jack Sparrow?  I may end up seeing this solely for villain Alfred Molina, who rocked Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2.”

Officially released on June 18 but not hitting Houston until July 16 is “The Killer Inside Me,” starring Casey Affleck and Kate Hudson.  Apparently it’s based on one of the most brutally violent and disturbing stories ever.  I’ll trust Kubrick here.

July 23

I’m hoping “Salt” becomes this summer’s “Wanted.”  Just an enjoyable, action-packed movie that doesn’t try to wow you, only entertain you.  Angelina Jolie makes one BA action heroine … or villain, depending on what happens in this movie.

Kiddie fare comes for the third straight weekend with “Ramona and Beezus,” starring Disney Channel sweetheart Selena Gomez.  This could do well because it’s an adaptation of the beloved series that has been around for decades, and it has an impressive adult cast including Sandra Oh, Bridget Moynahan, John Corbett, and Josh Duhamel.  Then again, it could also just fade into the mist of the other kids movies.

Opening on the indie side of things is “Life During Wartime” starring Allison Janney.

July 30

I’m honestly scared of “Dinner for Schmucks.”  I love both Paul Rudd and Steve Carell to death, and the plot here just reeks of a bomb.  My worst fear is that this and “The Other Guys” become the “Land of the Lost”/”Year One” comedy flop combo of 2010.  Maybe Zach Galifianakis can save it…

But what reeks of a stinker even more is “Cats and Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore,” a sequel that no one really wants.  And “Charlie St. Cloud” reeks of Zac Efron.

Meanwhile, there’s some good indie drama with “Get Low,” starring Robert Duvall.  See my Oscar Moment for further commentary.

Can July save the summer?  Will “Inception” rule the roost?  What will be the BEST movie of the month?  Let me know by taking the poll … DEADLINE IS JUNE 25.