Valkyrie

Tom Cruise is a bold traitor to his leadership but not his nation in the good but not great Valkyrie. The history upon which the film is based, a real coup attempt to assassinate Hitler and take over the apparatus of the German government in the waning days of the war, is fascinating and the script does a great job of turning this into a tense thriller. Nonetheless, we the audience know that Hitler did not die and the coup did not succeed.

Besides Tom Cruise (with his eye patch and stump arm, only a hook-hand away from being a pirate), the movie features every known character actor in the universe including memorable turns from Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson as more conflicted members of the conspiracy. It’s a great conspiracy, and I guess the revelation of the film is just how close it came to succeeding.

I sense the movie was greenlit as a commentary on Bush impeachment but has arrived too late. If Valkyrie‘s legacy is anything, it might be to give some dimension to everyone’s favorite caricatured movie villains. The tagline of the film should’ve been: “Valkyrie: You will root for Nazis (because they’re trying to kill Hitler)!”

Tell No One

Released in France several years ago, Tell No One has aged like a fine wine before coming to America. It’s a twisty little mystery-thriller about a man investigating the death of his wife eight years earlier even as the police investigate him. Like most movies with multiple major twists, if you really think about the plot, the implausibilities magnify. Nonetheless, it is skillfully acted and directed — including a masterful chase sequence that involves crossing a freeway on foot.

I can understand why no one wanted to release this film in America, even though it’s a good film. It is not your usual subtitled fare. What I don’t understand is why it’s been doing so well (relatively). Are we that starving for intelligent thrillers? Hmm, now remembering back to the success of Michael Clayton last year… I guess we are.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I’m conflicted about Benjamin Button. I’d like to say it’s director David Fincher’s third masterpiece, after Se7en and Fight Club. But I don’t think I can. It is a masterful film, an epic love story told with a meandering Southern charm, and definitely his most emotionally-resonant piece of filmmaking. Bring at least three hankies to wipe the tears.

I think ultimately his very fine directing is not supported by Eric Roth’s script, which does a great job of turning an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story into an epic love movie, but which drags in the middle and never quite thematically brings all of the elements together. It also suffers by the inevitable comparison to Forest Gump, another manboy who experienced world history first hand. Click here to read the full Benjamin Button review with spoilers…(If it had made more of a try to shoehorn in real history, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been so bothered by the Hurricane Katrina reference; but then I would’ve been bothered by its aping of the Gump formula.)

Benjamin Button is more a fable than Gump, the central magical conceit being that eponymous character (Brad Pitt) is aging backwards. The implications of aging, and how it affects the way we live our lives is, I suppose, what is the central philosophical dilemma. The movie doesn’t ignore this, giving us four excellent episodes — one of Benjamin being raised in an old age home by his adopted mother (Taraji P. Henson); one with a Pygmy tribesman (Rampai Mohadi) who teaches Benjamin what it is to be a curiosity; one with a middle-aged diplomat’s wife (Tilda Swinton); one as a ship’s mate on a tugboat captained by an alcoholic Irishman (Jared Harris). The performances that Pitt plays against in all of these episodes are phenomenal and nomination-worthy.

But the movie spends more time on the relationship of Benjamin and Daisy. There was a moment, when she returns to New Orleans after the Second World War and meets up with him, where I thought that the movie might really generate some unique romance. But the Benjamin character is just so passive. To be sure, like most movie romances, the relationship is interesting up until is consummated. After that, it is a series of beautiful-but-empty montages and an unexplained halt to their connubial bliss when Benjamin does something that isn’t passive, for once.

This is all by way of explaining why I don’t think it reaches the highest level it could. That said, I loved the movie. It is one of my favorites of the year. It’s a beautiful nearly-three-hour epic that is well worth seeing on the big screen.

Also, the lightning strike thing is hilarious.

Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon is a superior film from start to finish. At this moment, I would see anything written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland). I was worried he’d run into the usual trouble screenwriters run into while adapting plays, adapting this from his own play of the same name. While the movie is theatrical, it never feels like a theater piece that was thrown on screen.

For this I also give credit to director Ron Howard, and to the excellent cast, anchored by Michael Sheen as playboy t.v. personality David Frost and Frank Langella as disgraced President Richard Nixon. Langella, in particular, has an extended close-up at the climax at the film which is spellbinding.

I could have done without the fake interviews, however. They sound at times like bad exposition, rather than interviews. Other than that, I loved Frost/Nixon. There is a whisper campaign going on now against it that says it took liberties with the actual history. I’m glad. Better that, and get an excellent and dramatic film, than the stubborn devotion to reality in Milk or, what I hear is worse, Ché.