The Great Raid

Partially recommended. This is the true story of the greatest rescue of American POWs in history. An elite force of newbie Texas Rangers were sent in to rescue about 500 POWs in a Philippine POW camp held by the Japanese. These were men who survived the Bataan death march and were wasting away from starvation and beatings by the Japanese. Colonel Mucci and his men rescued all the POWs, with but one POW death and a couple of fatalities in the squad. A truly miraculous story. For that and for the fact that the story shows SOME of the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese soldiers and police against the Americans, this movie should be seen. The problem is that because of the Nuremburg trials and the obsessive focus on Nazi war crimes, the Japanese war crimes were all but overshadowed and ignored by the public and the resultant consciousness of history in this country. So see it. But unfortunately, it is not a very good movie in storytelling and filmmaking terms. It reeks of television writing and the characters are not nearly as engaging as they should be. With terrible choices for leads like Benjamin Bratt and James Franco, it just cries out for good acting. And the Japanese are cardboard villains, and apart from the atrocities, you just don’t feel for these guys. They are flat characters and there are too many of them. The only good story is the doomed love story between a Major in the camp, played by Joseph Fiennes and an American woman in the Filipino underground, played by Connie Neilson. They are the only ones who have an interesting and dramatic past and connection in that she was married to his commanding officer who was killed and now they live to be together with each other. This is also the story that they brilliantly play as the tragic element in the otherwise victorious story. Not everything was happy results in this realistic story of human pathos and the triumph of the spirit. But I must admit, I am a bit biased in my observations for a couple reasons. One, this is the movie that I discovered Miramax was developing when my movie, To End All Wars came out. Turns out they tried to buy the distribution of our movie, and it is clear now, that they wanted to shelf our movie so they would be the first out with their POW movie. Thank God the producers didn’t go with them. The Great Raid lacked the epic transcendence and memorable characters, scenes and lines that a good epic should have. But also, I was rewriting the miniseries for this same exact story for Disney Touchstone when the Weinsteins discovered the production and literally strong-armed our production into the trash can because of their power (We were both under Disney distribution). Ours was based on the Hampton Sides bestselling novel and it was clearly superior. I was hired to bring in a stronger Japanese element like I did in TEAW. I was also rewriting other elements of it. And it was going to include a bit of the Bataan death march, which is a story that needs to be told as well as some amazing other historically true stuff. Oh well, water under the bridge. But all that said, still see the movie because these men died for your freedom. We owe it to them to know their story, regardless of the fact that oafish trolls may have ruined the movie.

Broken Flowers

Not Recommended. This is a story with a powerful moral theme that I think is hindered by an immoral element that destroys the very morality of the story itself. A great premise of Bill Murray, a lonely lifeless eternal womanizing bachelor, who receives a letter in the mail telling him he has sired a son that is now 19 years old by one of his past conquests. But the mother does not tell him who she is, so he is left wondering. He is pushed into a plan by his next door neighbor, a family man, with a loving wife and kids, to seek out his ex-girlfriends and try to figure out which one it is. So Murray goes on a cross country trip to visit each of several woman who he may have dated around 19 years ago. As he visits each one, we see each of them, living wasted lives, that it is implied HE has been of some cause. Sharon Stone, plays a white trash woman who sleeps with anything that moves, and has no real heart connection, not even with her daughter, who is a small version slut of her mom. Jessica Lange has become a lesbian kooky new age “animal communicator” who thinks she is a Dr. Dolittle with animals. Another one has become a lonely consumer lifestyle suburban desperate housewife married to a loving but empty real estate salesman. And another has become a rural crude white trash biker’s chick. And the beautiful dramatic aspect of this filmmaking is how Jim Jarmusch, the writer/director communicates the emptiness of each of these women’s lives, and indeed, Murray’s life as well, almost entirely through looks and visuals. Almost NOTHING is spoken of their misery or despair. You can see it in their eyes and reactions to him. They have all had their lives sucked out of them, and he has no life left in him. No emotion, no heart or zeal for reality. He’s a living personification of Hugh Hefner. And then, he becomes haunted by this search for a son. Every young man he sees in each town, looks as if he could be his son. When Murray gets back home, having failed to figure out which one it was, he discovers a drifter that he assumes is his son, but when he reaches out to the kid assuming he is his father, the kid runs and we see he isn’t. And Murray is left literally, on a crossroad, with nothing, and having not found his son. He is unredeemed. He is entirely alone and without any connection. It is, in fact, a tragedy. The kid had asked Murray for some philosophical advice and Murray told him, “The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet. So this is all there is, the present.” And you can’t help but think that this existential worldview is the driving force of such selfishness. Living for the moment is part and parcel of the destruction of human connection and relationship. It is supreme selfishness that destroys life in yourself and in others. It’s a beautiful testament to the despair and emptiness of a promiscuous life. A life that can find no intimacy, and therefore no human connection. A life that begins with “fun” and sexual experiences, but ends in complete isolation and insignificance. A touch of irony is thrown in, when the family man neighbor says he is helping Murray find his ex-girlfriends because he believes Murray “understands women.” In other words, the grass is greener syndrome makes the people who do know the normalcy of intimacy with a wife and family actually mistakenly assume that men who are able to bed so many women must know women. They do and they don’t. They know how to use and manipulate them, but not how to know them intimately. Promiscuous womanizers don’t really know the meaning of love and therefore the beauty and comfort of normalcy in marriage and relationships. It is the “boring” lifelong commitment that finds intimacy and true human connection. The trouble is that we too easily take it for granted, and this movie makes that point. The reason why I cannot recommend it though is because there is a full frontal nudity shot of a girl who is supposed to be a teen slut hitting on Murray. Murray runs from it, but the damage is done cinematically. I don’t have a problem with the concept of such temptation or depravity in a movie, but the filmmaker shows full frontal nudity for a girl that is supposed to be a teenager (though, obviously, the actress could not legally be a teen). So, in effect, the filmmaker imitates child pornography in the making of his movie, which effectively destroys the moral import of the rest of the movie. There are limits to the appropriate depiction of sin, and this movie, by imitating child pornography, stepped over that line. I think it is more autobiographical of the dark fantasies of filmmakers, like Jarmusch, than it is a does of “reality,” as they might claim.


Not Recommended. Tarantino is not to be trusted. This movie is boring. I walked out after the first third of the movie because it had no soul. Okay, I understand that these movies are the Chinese version of superheros. But I guess I just don’t like Eastern superheros because they think that emotionless expression is somehow “deep”, when all it really is is dramatically uninteresting. Human beings are emotional beings, so universal emotional suppression in all characters is simply boring drama. Yeah, yeah, my western prejudice. And in this case, my western prejudice is simply superior for dramatic story. And if you doubt that, just look at the worldwide gross of OUR superhero movies as opposed to these Eastern superhero movies, and well, your doubt will dissolve. Also, a movie that is a string of long 5 minute fight scenes, one after another, just doesn’t make good story. Sure, the choreography and cinematography is cool, but choreography and cinematography IS NOT STORY, they are enhancement to story. Without story, they become boring shallow style without substance. And that’s what Hero is: style without substance.

The Station Agent

Highly recommend. Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. This is a little gem of a film. Almost purely character-driven. It’s the story of a dwarf [yes, the main character is actually a dwarf] who inherits an old train depot station from a dead friend and goes to live there. It’s out in the middle of nowheresville, that is, Newfoundland New Jersey. While there, he meets an Italian coffee truck vendor and an absent-minded female artist. The acting is superb by everyone, especially the dwarf. What a wonderful change of pace from the typical movie that uses only “beautiful people” to star. Of course, it’s not that the dwarf is ugly, but just that he is not a model for Calvin Klein underwear. He is a human being just like Tom Cruise, and this movie proves that it is interesting absorbing characters that help make a story intriguing to the viewer, not star power. Anyway, the dwarf character is moody and withdrawn, with lots of scenes of minimalist dialogue and long lazy shots (in the good sense). This reminded me of the beautiful Tender Mercies, which also gave us such small town angst with simplicity. The theme of this movie deals with friendship, alienation and rejection. The funniest scene had me laughing my head off. As the dwarf character walks home down a road, the kooky artist just happens to be driving by and loses control of the vehicle because she drops her cell phone. She almost hits the guy, and apologizes. There is chemistry here, but it is suppressed. The very next time she meets him, it is in the exact same situation as he is walking home, only, this time, she spills her coffee at that very moment, and he sees the car weaving again as it comes toward him. You can almost see the connection in his brain as he sees the car come towards him again. I couldn’t stop laughing and thinking about it. I must confess that I loved it even though there is not really much of a story. This is unusual for me. I get bored when there is no story. But the characters were so compelling.