Saturday, February 24, 2007

Special Cinebanter Announcement

Hello everyone,

This is just an update to let you know that my Cinebanter co-host and I will be live blogging today during the Independent Spirit Awards and tomorrow during the Oscars on our Cinebanter home page.

We've posted an audio message explaining it on iTunes—you can access that mp3 here.

Join in the fun, watch the shows and comment along with us!

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

The evening of February 22, I saw Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, a documentary about the atrocities committed in the Iraqi prison.

The film was created by my favorite documentarian, Rory Kennedy and includes interviews with former prisoners, guards and military personnel who were there at the time.

What did I learn? Something I already knew: America should be ashamed of itself. There's really no other way to say it. As this war began, the Geneva Convention was thrown out the window and our soldiers were instructed to torture their captives using the most humiliating and extreme techniques. The photos in the documentary (many of which were seen through various media channels when the scandal was exposed) are still nauseating; the excuses still unacceptable.

What I found to be the most frightening part of the documentary was the nonchalance of the females interviewed, who were all but justifying their smiling photographs demonstrating these horrors. I didn't get any sense of remorse from the women, although all of the men displayed regret and guilt for their actions.

This film should be required viewing in every boot camp training course in every branch of the military.

But that will never happen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Tonight I saw Breach, starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillipe.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 23, which you can access here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

God Grew Tired of Us

This morning I saw God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary about the Lost Boys of Sudan.

The story follows Sudanese refugees from their Kenyan camp to their new homes sprinkled throughout America. The most interesting parts of the film are watching the 'boys' adapt to their new surroundings.

They don't understand that the butter cubes on the airplane aren't for eating alone ("Tastes like soap!"), that the door should be kept closed when using a public bathroom, and that Americans don't always speak to one another if they're strangers.

What they do understand is how to earn a living, work hard for a better life and value their friends and family.

Although the movie is focused on showing what these Africans can learn in America and benefit from its opportunities, it really shows us how much we benefit from helping decent, honest people make a life for themselves.

The postcscript shares their successes including college degrees, positions of leadership and evidence of 'giving back' to the communities they came from.

As a country, we should do more of this. Helping people help themselves.

It's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima

Tonight I saw Letters From Iwo Jima, starring Ken Wantanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya.

This story of the Imperial Japanese fighting the Americans in the Battle of Iwo Jima is a sincere attempt to convey the horrors of war on both sides of the fence. However, it should've been an hour shorter.

The acting performances are superb and the battle scenes are an appropriately dizzy, harrowing ride, but the sentiment for me fell short—despite the fact the movie is well over two hours long. After witnessing the atrocities committed by both teams of soldiers, I was just anxious for the film to end because I didn't feel especially compassionate for either side.

Some would say that because the movie is based on a real battle and we know how it truly ended, that some of the suspense will inevitably be lost no matter how good the film is. I might have agreed with this had I not seen United 93, but now that I know it can be done, I no longer see that as a valid excuse.

This movie is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar® because of its beloved director Clint Eastwood, not because of its worth.

Eastwood's companion piece to this film, Flags of Our Fathers, better kept my attention—not just because I'm an American, but because it was a stronger story. What may have brought me into Iwo Jima more is if Clint had shown some familiar faces from his first movie and really tied things together. How compelling would it have been to see one of our beloved soldiers die from the opposite perspective?

More compelling than the result of this film, which left me bored and tired.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Painted Veil

This afternoon I saw The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 22, so download our show to hear the full review.


This morning I saw Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Adriana Barraza.

Here are ten things I learned by watching it:

1. Don't go on vacation to an undesirable place just because your spouse wants to go.

2. Don't leave children unattended with rifles.

3. Seek counseling for any person who finds the dead body of their suicidal parent.

4. Being deaf is difficult.

5. If you're an immigrant and you want to work in the United States, become a legal citizen.

6. Don't drink and drive.

7. Don't provoke border guards.

8. Don't stand for political red tape getting in the way of your welfare when traveling abroad.

9. Always have a backup babysitter.

10. Don't run from your problems, even if they're difficult to deal with (i.e. accidental death of a child).

What's funny is that I knew all of the above before I sat through this movie.

We're all supposed to learn how to communicate with one another to achieve harmony in this world. Point taken.

This better not win Best Picture.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

Last night I saw Das Leben der Anderen, starring Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck.

What a fantastic film.

Koch portrays playright Georg Dreyman who is targeted by the Stasi (East German Secret Police) in an effort to remove him so one of their lead henchman can have Christa-Maria Sieland, a successful stage actress, all to himself.

The captain assigned to their surveillance, Gerd Wiesler (brilliantly played by Ulrich Muhe), is at first a stereotypical yes-man to his superiors, but soon becomes almost infatuated with the couple and questions his own Stasi loyalty.

What develops is a thrilling guessing game of "Who's-on-who's side?" that leads to a nailbiting climax and fulfilling conclusion.

Overall, it's a suspenseful, funny, sexy adventure illustrated by excellent writing and perfectly-cast actors. It feels authentic throughout, and although not based on truth, could've easily happened in mid-80s East Germany.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Italian

Tonight I saw The Italian, starring the adorable Kolya Spridonov.

Dickensian is a proper way to describe the film, set in an icy, perpetually damp Russia.

The story follows six-year-old Vanya, who lives in a miserable orphanage and is about to be 'sold' to an Italian couple who wants to adopt him. Before he's taken, he encounters a desperate mother who has returned to his orphanage to claim her biological son only to find out he's already been adopted. Seeing how much this mother loved her boy, although she'd originally abandoned him, gives Vanya hope that his natural mother may also come back for him.

Thus begins the adventures of Vanya.

With help from older orphans, he sets out to find his biological mother and endures amazing obstacles along the way. Without giving anything away, I'll just say I teared up throughout the film. Spridonov's performance is magnificent and the supporting cast are so realistic you feel as if they're living out their existences now, even though the movie has ended.

Heartwrenching? Yes. But definitely worth a watch.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Today I saw Venus, starring Peter O'Toole.

It's an unconventional love story about a young girl named Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) who moves in with her elderly great-uncle to help him around the house and develops a friendship with his equally elderly friend Morris (O'Toole).

The friendship crosses the line by way of neck sniffing and shoulder kisses, but in a wierd way it's not as bothersome as it sounds. Some have compared this movie to Lolita and I can understand why, but the main difference is that the heroine in this story (Venus) is of consenting age.

Peter O'Toole's performance has been hailed as one of the finest in 2006. I can't disagree with that, but he still doesn't get my pick for the Best Actor Oscar. I believe he's deserved it on many occasions, but this is not one of them. Here he is perhaps portraying the closest thing to himself rather than his competitors in the category (Gosling as a drug-addict; DiCaprio as a diamond trader from another continent; Whitaker as a dictator; Smith as a poverty-stricken dad). It's true this is probably his last great role, but to me that doesn't warrant a statue.

Overall, the film is pleasant enough to watch save for the moments of discomfort during a few borderline sexual scenes. An element of sweetness ultimately saves it, but I suspect seniors will embrace this film more than the average thirty/fortysomething viewer.