The King (2005)


“Do you believe in God?” Elvis (Gael García Bernal) asks 16-year-old Malerie (Pell James), after she says his cursing bothers her. “Yes I do,” comes her certain answer. It’s that certainty that director James Marsh seems interested in challenging in The King, an accomplished but upsetting look at a demon visiting a family of true believers in Corpus Christi. Elvis is the son of a prostitute, a discharged sailor come to Texas in search of the father he never knew — David Sandow (William Hurt), a reformed philanderer who runs a cavernous church called Sanctuary. Marsh’s decision to portray Sandow as a doctrinarian who belittles his teenaged children and denies his own checkered past makes the events that transpire — as Elvis insinuates himself into the unsuspecting family in unsavory and ultimately devastating ways — feel punitive and mean-spirited. And yet there’s something fascinating in Bernal’s portrayal of a gentle monster who seems truly not to see his own evil, and in James’s depiction of the girl who submits easily to his ravishing, which is a kind of liberation. In context, the film-ending declaration “I need to get right with God” feels like the punchline to a very sick joke.

Originally published in the White Plains Times, October 20, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)


In his 70s, Clint Eastwood has found a vigorous second wind as a much-respected director of serious, popular fare. He may have hit a wall with Flags of Our Fathers, a sensitive, clear-headed but bloated and slightly preachy World War II picture aimed at an audience that probably feels Saving Private Ryan is the last word on the spectacular horrors of a necessary war. The elaborate battle sequences that depict the bloody U.S. siege on Iwo Jima are notable for their unaffected look at the young soldiers involved. (They feel more personal than similar scenes in the more expertly tooled Ryan.) But the real subject is propaganda, which the film explores by following three of the soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi — in one of the most famous of all wartime photographs — after they return home. The screenplay (co-written by Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed the Best Picture-winning Crash) zigzags forward and backward in time and imposes an old-folks-reminiscing framework that the story neither demands nor benefits from. Eastwood’s follow-up, scheduled for early 2007, is Letters From Iwo Jima, meant to tell the story from the Japanese point of view. That could be something to see.

Originally published in the White Plains Times, November 3, 2006

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2006)

Lazarescu_198.jpgSaddening but riveting, and possessed of a positively wicked wit, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is executed with the sensitivity of great literature and the panache of bravura filmmaking.

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Crank (2006)


If you favor movies that boast bold visuals and brash action, you may well find Crank to be a veritable font of cinematic pleasure. Reliable man-of-small-words-and-big-action Jason Statham (“The Transporter”) stars as Chev Chelios, a tightly wound hit man who’s been injected with an exotic poison that will kill him if he allows his adrenaline levels to flag.
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Silent Hill

Snakes on a Plane may be a mediocre, lowbrow fright film, but Silent Hill is something much worse — a laughably pretentious one. Radha Mitchell, an actress who deserves better parts than this, plays Rose, who finds herself stranded in the abandoned town of Silent Hill, West Virginia, searching for her lost daughter.

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Half Nelson

halfnelson_198.jpgRyan Gosling anchors Half Nelson with a sturdy, utterly credible performance as a crack-addicted Brooklyn schoolteacher struggling to keep his life together. Strung out and depressed, he’s befriended by a student, Shareeka Epps, who’s fighting her own private battle in an environment that offers up drug-dealing as an easy way to exploit your neighbors for easy profits.

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