5 Days of War


5 Days of War

Another New York City marathon gets underway!

(2011) War (Anchor Bay) Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Jonathan Schaech, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Richard Coyle, Rade Serbedzija, Dean Cain, Ken Cranham, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Antje Traue. Directed by Renny Harlin

 

There is nothing good or noble about war. Men have waxed poetic about war and its virtues, but the truth of war is that it is savage and horrible, appealing only to the base instincts of men in reality – the need to take by force that which isn’t given freely. There is nothing noble about war.

War correspondent Thomas Anders (Friend) knows that better than most. The girl he loved (Graham) was caught in the crossfire during one of his assignments and left him alone and bitter. Then, a colleague, a cheerfully debauched Dutchman (Kilmer) points Anders in the direction of Georgia – not the state, the Russian republic – which was on the brink of war with Russia. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakshvili (Garcia) frets and wonders why the West isn’t helping his tiny Republic take on the Russian juggernaut but the West is mostly focusing on the Beijing Olympics. Priorities.

Anders brings along his trusty cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Coyle) and manage to get in the thick of a wedding that winds up being scattered to the four winds when shelling interrupts the ceremony. They wind up hooking up with Tattia (Chriqui) whose sister’s wedding it was. She agrees to serve as their interpreter in exchange for them helping her locate and reunite with her family.

They witness the Russian army committing some atrocities and get it on film. The Russian commander Aleksandr Demidov (Serbedzija) gets wind of this and sends his brutal mercenary commando Danlil (Nousiainen) after them. Anders and Ganz get their footage onto a flash drive and try to escape to a place of safety where they can get their footage to the authorities. The trouble is, the authorities are corrupt and the major networks disinterested. Somehow Anders is going to have to find a way to make the world listen.

Harlin has directed some pretty nifty action films in his day including Speed but has hit a dry patch of late. This isn’t going to help him get back into the game to be honest. I understand that the film was at least partially financed by Georgia and the country allowed some of their military equipment to be used in the film and quite frankly part of the film’s highlights are the very realistically staged battle sequences.

However in a very real way that’s a deal with the devil; the film is certainly from the Georgian point of view with the Russians being loathsome monsters and the Georgians martyrs. The real war – and it was a real war – wasn’t like that. Like most conflicts, there wasn’t one villain and one hero although as with most conflicts both sides saw it that way.

Anyone who’s seen films like The Year of Living Dangerously will recognize most of the clichés about war correspondents in war situations. Whether or not they’re true (and for the most part they’re based in truth but like most Hollywood clichés made extreme) they still ring hollow here; it feels like a movie we’ve seen before only not as well made. Sure it’s not completely without value but it just feels more like propaganda.

When a film quotes “The first casualty in war is the truth” and then goes on to show only an aspect of it, two things happen – first, we are reminded that truth is often a matter of perspective. What one side considers unshakable fact the other usually considers to be an outright lie. Second, the filmmakers lose their credibility amid the further hypocrisy of trotting out Georgian survivors of war atrocities to tell their stories. At no point is any Russian allowed to refute any of this.

I’m not saying that the Russians didn’t do some of the things you see here – I have no doubt that they did. I’m certainly not excusing the behavior; it’s just that I don’t believe one side was made up of saints and the others sinners. The Georgians have their own culpability to bear here and we don’t get to see it, leaving the proceedings uncomfortably one-sided. A little more honesty would have made for a better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic war action.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One-sided to the point of ridiculousness. Overwrought and cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of war violence and bad language but there are also some scenes of war atrocities that might be a bit too intense for younger and more sensitive viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Early on President Saakshvili can be seen chewing on his tie; this was based on an actual incident in which the real President Saakshvili was accidentally caught on-camera when he didn’t think that it was filming munching on his tie. The footage can still be found on the Internet if you Google it.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,479 on a $12M production budget; even those without math skills know this was a box office dud.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bang Bang Club

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Meet the Parents

Quarantine


Quarantine

Jennifer Carpenter is just glad it's not Dexter who's stalking her.

(2008) Found Footage Horror (Screen Gems) Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Columbus Short, Greg Germann, Steve Harris, Dania Ramirez, Rade Sherbedgia, Jonathon Schaech. Directed by John Erick Dowdle

There is a certain horror of being trapped in an enclosed, locked space with flesh-eating lunatics. However, the possibility of becoming one yourself only heightens the terror.

Cub television reporter Angela Vidal (Carpenter) has a relatively soft assignment; to spend a shift with the night crew of a Los Angeles fire station. She flirts with the handsome paramedics Jake (Hernandez) and George (Schaech) and banters with her cameraman Scott (Harris). She goes with them on what appears to be a routine call; an elderly resident of an apartment complex has been injured and is acting erratically.

They go on the call only to find something extraordinary. The elderly resident is far from a helpless old lady; she attacks them with nails and teeth, seriously injuring one of the firefighters and killing a police officer. When they call for help, things get even weirder – the house is locked down by the CDC and anyone who tries to leave is shot, as in dead.

It turns out that there are more infected than just the old lady and soon the residents, including the landlord (Sherbedgia), a vet (White) and a badass (Short), are fighting for their lives and trying to find a way out – if there is one.

This is the remake of a Spanish film called [REC] and is similar to films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield in that it is filmed with a single hand-held camera and purports to be “found footage,” raw footage of an actual event. The appeal of these to audiences is that they create a certain buzz and people are fascinated with the concept of footage of events that have been kept secret from them; the appeal to studios is that they’re incredibly cheap to produce and can be extremely profitable.

Dowdle, who did a similarly-themed film in The Poughkeepsie Journal, does a great job in making the tension high throughout the film, basically from the time they arrive at the apartment complex. The issue is that if you watch [REC] as I did you will see that the movie is virtually a shot by shot remake in most of the important aspects. Many of the best parts of Quarantine were lifted whole cloth from [REC]. I would have liked to have seen a little more creativity on that score.

Of course, it can be argued that this just shows the good taste of the filmmaker and I can’t argue that. I will also grant you that the changes that Dowdle did make were all improvements, without exception. The main problem with the film is that other than Schaech and Hernandez, the cast is pretty bland. Carpenter, who was excellent as the sister in “Dexter,” is miscast as the reporter. She doesn’t have the vanity or the look of a local television reporter; she is more tomboyish. The role requires her to become terrified to the point of panic and she’s never really convincing in that light. That may be a little bit of “Dexter” holdover; I will willingly cop to that.

Still, this is a nice example of a found footage horror film. It’s a little more slickly made than [REC] but to be honest, I liked the Spanish film better (the cast was far more convincing although the explanation in that film for the events bordered on the ridiculous) and would recommend that above this one; however it’s a given that it’s much more difficult to find so if all you can locate is this one, you won’t be disappointed.

WHY RENT THIS: Tension is nicely executed here. Horrific images are over-the-top and well done.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A nearly shot-for-shot remake of [REC]. Although Schaech and Hernandez make fine firefighters, the rest of the cast is mostly forgettable.

FAMILY VALUES: Extreme violence and gore, along with a good deal of profanity. There’s also an extremely tense and terrifying atmosphere that may be too intense for the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There is no musical score in the movie, highly unusual for a Hollywood film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41.3M on a $12M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Treeless Mountain

All About Steve


All About Steve

Bradley Cooper finds this movie as frustrating as we do.

(20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Howard Hesseman, Katy Mixon, Keith David, Beth Grant. Directed by Phil Traill

We all are who we are; that is an unshakable fact. Sometimes, who we are falls a mite outside what most folks would consider normal. There’s nothing wrong with that but sometimes people fall so far outside of normal that they can’t even see normal from where they are. Again, nothing wrong with that – most of the time.

Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Bullock) – yes, she’s half-Jewish, half-Catholic – works as a crossword puzzle constructor (a.k.a. a cruciverbalist) for a Sacramento daily newspaper. She’s recently moved back home with dear old Mom and Dad, mainly because her own apartment is being fumigated. Mary is 40ish, and single. She pretty much has always been single. She has a nervous habit of talking non-stop using a ton of $5 words and spitting out trivial facts like they’re watermelon seeds at a country fair. She also wears a pair of shiny bright red disco boots everywhere that pretty much guarantee her that nobody will ever – and I mean ever – take her seriously.

Other than that, she’s a pretty decent-hearted woman who just needs to meet the right man, and she thinks she’s done that. His name is Steve (Cooper) and he works as a cameraman for a cable news channel. They meet on a blind date at which she is completely smitten by his charm. However, after she about rapes him in the cab of his truck at the date’s conclusion, his feelings for her are a lot less sanguine. As a matter of fact, his tiles squeal as he tries to drive away from her at warp speed. Scotty, push the engines ‘til they blow.

She loses her job after constructing a crossword puzzle in which every clue has something to do with her would-be boyfriend. With no obligations holding her back, she decides to follow him everywhere he goes from one big news story to the next, much to the bemusement of his smarmy on-camera reporter Hartman Hughes (Church) and their producer Angus (Jeong).

Along the way she is subjected to every indignity you can imagine (and a few you can’t). Now, I have nothing against putting characters in a comedy through the ringer, but some of the actions border on the cruel, like the bus driver who tricks her into getting off the bus, then drives away, stranding her in the middle of nowhere.

Part of the problem is that it’s Sandra Bullock, man. You want to like her and at times here I nearly do, but the character is so filled with quirks and ticks that you want to get far, far away from her, which is never a good thing either in a movie theater or at home.

This is a movie that should have worked and to be fair, some of it does. The cast here is one any casting director would be proud to assemble, but there’s not a lot of chemistry here. The humor is a little on the low-brow side and going for something edgy they wind up instead just make you wonder what the heck they were thinking.

There really isn’t one place to lay blame at. One gets the impression that there’s a lot of ad libbing going on, but the script and story aren’t that strong to begin with. There is certainly a good deal of overacting, kind of like silent cinema comedy in the 21st century.

This movie was bookended by The Proposal and The Blind Side, the latter of which won Bullock her first Oscar. Unfortunately, this movie also won her a Razzie, making her the first actress to win one of each in the same year. That All About Steve sat on a studio shelf for two years should have been fair warning that this movie wasn’t going to be successful. Even if you’re a big fan of Miss Bullock as I am, you’re going to find a very hard time to find nice things to say about this one.

WHY RENT THIS: A very likable cast that appears to be having a good time makes you really want to like this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The cast tries just a little too hard sometimes to be funny and the script veers off from genuinely madcap to sincerely silly in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual innuendo but for the most part it’s harmless; you might think twice about bringing the very young (i.e. preschoolers) but otherwise this is okay for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene in which Mary is soaking in the bathtub, the song in the background is sung by Helga Bullock, Sandra’s real-life mom.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s actually a surprising amount of material for a movie many figured would get the bare-bones treatment. There’s a mock behind-the-scenes interview with the terminally annoying Kerri Kenney as an “Access Hollywood”-type interviewer and a Fox Movie Channel program called “Life After Film School” in which three film students interview director Phil Traill.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: A Perfect Getaway