Thursday, December 17, 2009



Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” is, above all, an actors feast. Drafted and remade from Susanna Bier’s excellent 2004 Danish film of the same name, I found myself less interested in this remake due to 1) the film’s trailer that illuminates and exhales some of the film’s most juiced up moments and 2) the fact that Bier’s film was so damn good in every aspect that a basic retread felt like watching an instant replay. Still, if there’s one great thing about Sheridan’s humanistic touch, it’s his ability to draw naturalistic performances out of young children. Like the twin daughters in his previous work, “In America”, youngsters Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare avoid the shrill kids role and seemingly invest real fear and emotion. And there’s a scene at a dinner table during a birthday party that slowly evokes tension with precise care. “Brothers” is by no means a bad film, just another in a long line of movies that raises the question of ’why do we need it’ after such a remarkable original effort.

Red Cliff

Cut by over 100 minutes and unceremoniously dumped into theaters with little advanced buzz, John Woo’s “Red Cliff” still deserves to be seen for its eye popping visuals and rapt attention to battle strategy. Though one can feel some of the subplots between its characters were obvious victims of the lopped time, what remains is, essentially, an hour of sweeping battles wrapped around protracted segments of strategies and back story. Though it takes a bit to get organized with the myriad of characters, Woo adroitly overcomes that through entertaining examples of antiquated strategy, such as the easiest way to draw an encroaching army into a dust storm ambush or the cringe-inducing effects of psychological warfare through the methods of shipping typhoid infected bodies to your enemies. And then there are the battles, which Woo serves up in hyper stylized slow motion and overhead tracking shots as if he were filming a ballet company in full swoon. It all coalesces magnificently into grand entertainment. I’m searching for the full 5 hour version now.

Up In the Air

I don’t know if anyone could be as indifferent to Jason Reitman’s previous film (“Juno”) as I was. Well, going into the heavily hyped “Up In the Air”, I was reticent about the whole thing. And a strange thing happened. I loved it. Razor sharp in its emotions and with nary a spare word of dialogue, the film unfurls with utter truth and honesty. As the traveling warrior whose job it is to fire people, Clooney again takes a simple role and embellishes it with gentle grace. There are life changes, and some big speeches, and some very tender moments with a similar soul (the always game and beautiful Vera Farmiga), and “Up In the Air” nails each and every moment. A really good film.


Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” contains both a compassionate plea for world peace and the idea that sport can unite a country despite its racially charged background. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that message and Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon play their roles to the hilt, but “Invictus” plays it too safe. It’s placement for social consciousness is telegraphed throughout every scene. With films like “Mystic River” and “Changeling’, Eastwood waded in some morally murky waters with startling results. There are some nice touches, such as the echo of the television set’s final World Cup match continually juxtaposed against the various ethnic backdrops, but too much of “Invictus” feels tonally schematic.

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