Recent Reviews

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life or Robert S. McNamara
Dir. Errol Morris; feat. Robert McNamara (PG-13)
More than most other conflicts, the Vietnam War was fought in a fog, and Robert Strange McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961-68, was its leading foghorn. In 1964, when asked his reaction to dubbing it "McNamara's War," the Pentagon chief replied: "It is a very important war and I am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever I can to win it." By 1995, he was recanting. "We were wrong," he declared. "We were terribly wrong." The Fog of War is an extended monologue that, along with books and public appearances, must be seen as a strenuous effort by the former warmaker to revise his image and even perform penance for the 25,000 American troops killed on his watch. Although The Fog of War makes effective use of archival footage, most of the film consists of a sharp, but melancholy old man speaking directly into the camera. Occasionally, a question can be heard from director Errol Morris, invisible outside the frame. In his 2000 film Mr. Death, Morris offered the quirky portrait of Fred Leuchter Jr., an ethical imbecile who denied the Holocaust and manufactured electric chairs. But Morris' McNamara is an ancient bird of a different feather. Prepared to revile an arrogant technocrat - the brilliant efficiency expert hired away from the Ford Motor Company to manage the DOD's killing machine - I left The Fog of War befogged by unexpected respect for a thoughtful, troubled human being. SGK

Latter Days
Writ. & dir. C. Jay Cox; feat. Steve Sandvoss, Wes Ramsey, Rebekah Jordan, Amber Benson, Khary Payton, Jacqueline Bisset (NR)
In the opening sequence of the film, young Aaron Davis arrives in Los Angeles from Pocatello to begin a two-year stint of volunteer service proselytizing to the urban heathen. He moves into a garden apartment that he shares with three other Mormon missionaries. The clean-cut newcomer catches the eye of a handsome neighbor inaptly named Christian, who prides himself on the serial sexual conquests of male hunks. Christian is fascinated by the Mormons in his midst and sees Aaron, so innocent of worldly filth that he doesn't even know how to do his laundry, as a challenge. He bets his fellow employees at a restaurant called Lila's that he can seduce Aaron. The manipulative plot of Latter Days is proof that gay love stories can be as sappy as straight ones. SGK

Dir. & writ. Patty Jenkins; feat. Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley (R)
Desperate to persuade Selby Wall (Ricci), a lonely gamine she meets in a bar, to spend a week with her, Aileen Wournos (Theron) insists: "You'll never meet someone like me again." She is right, and, instead of returning to her father in Ohio, Wall joins Wournos at a seedy motel in Daytona Beach. Monster is a horror show, its horror intensified by an opening announcement that it is based on a true story: a spiteful woman's homicidal spree. Between 1989 and 1990, Wournos, a 33-year-old hooker who worked the roads of Florida for $30 tricks, shot six of her johns to death. Raped by her father's friend, prostituting herself by age 9, and on her own by age 13, Wournos has, by the time she stumbles out of the rain and into the opening scene, been around the wheel several times. Monster itself is a fun-park attraction that induces less amusement than nausea. A spectacular performance by Charlize Theron, who reportedly put on 30 pounds and prosthetic teeth to impersonate Wournos, gives life to Monster. She commands the screen whenever she is on it, which is almost every moment. But Monster refuses to put together a coherent case for whether Wournos and Wall should be held accountable for their odious actions or regarded as creatures of circumstance, monsters created by a commodity culture in which love, like cash, is just another four-letter word. SGK

The Passion of the Christ
Dir. Mel Gibson; writ. Benedict Fitzgerald, Gibson; feat. James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo Jivkov, Hristo Shopov, Rosalinda Celentano (R)
By restricting itself to the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, The Passion of the Christ revels in distress devoid of context. Watching Jim Caviezel methodically transform into a barely ambulant corpse oozing blood from every pore, one might reasonably ask: What is the point? Christian theology responds: the ministry and the resurrection. But Mel Gibson's movie offers neither. A few fleeting flashbacks to the Sermon on the Mount are insufficient to establish faith, hope, and charity as counterweights to the ferocious malice on display for all but a couple of minutes. The film provides no basis for understanding the fury that drives the Temple priests and the crowds in the streets to demand the death of a supremely loving man. It is pain without purpose, the spectacle of savage violence ravaging the Prince of Peace. At the end, a momentary image of Jesus on his feet and washed of his wounds points to the resurrection, but it hardly redeems this bloody film. SGK

Touching the Void
Dir. Kevin Macdonald; writ. Joe Simpson; feat. Nicholas Aaron, Richard Hawking, Brendan Mackey, Simpson, Simon Yates (NR)
In June 1985, 21-year-old Simon Yates and 25-year-old Joe Simpson set out to ascend Siula Grande, a peak in the Peruvian Andes whose west face had never before been conquered. By the third day of strenuous, perilous climbing through icy winds, the two British mountaineers reached the 21,000-foot summit. Touching the Void commemorates an ordeal of extraordinary tenacity and improbable survival. Hours after standing in exultation atop Siula Grande, Joe and Simon were lost in the snow on the north face of the mountain. The film is a hybrid of documentary and reenactment. Recent on-camera interviews with Simon, Joe, and Richard Hawking, a non-climber who manned the base camp, alternate with footage of Nicholas Aaron and Brendan Mackey simulating the actions of Simon and Joe, respectively, two decades ago. To put it all on film takes much more than a camera. Director Kevin Macdonald, whose earlier work includes One Day in September, the riveting account of the Munich Olympic massacre, took his crew and his courage to the Andes to replicate the disastrous ascent of Siula Grande. SGK

Triplets of Belleville
Dir. & writ. Sylvain Chomet; feat. MichËle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas (PG-13)
In contrast to the undersea wonderland of Finding Nemo, where nothing would exist without computer animation, Triplets makes its technological tools almost invisible, using 3-D rendering to achieve certain effects (the fluid motion of automobiles, the rough seas between Paris and Belleville) but always making it subservient to the style of writer/director Sylvain Chomet, whose ridiculously exaggerated characters and rustic drawing line have more in common with European comic books than with most feature films. Beginning with a giddy musical tribute to pioneering cartoonist Max Fleischer, in which real-life entertainers like Django Reinhardt and Josephine Baker are parodied, Triplets quickly moves to the outskirts of Paris, where a sad, rotund boy (ironically named Champion) lives with his grandmother. One line of dialogue is spoken, and those are practically the last words we will hear. The plot begins when Champion is kidnapped during the race, stolen for unknown purposes, and Grandma sets off with Bruno on the long quest to rescue him. They follow his trail to Belleville, a fictional hybrid of Montreal and New York City, and are taken in by the Triplets, a singing group featured earlier in the film. Any kid mature enough to follow a wordless narrative for 80 minutes stands a good chance of being entranced by this film - and any adult willing to watch smart cartoons (we're looking at you, members of the Academy) would be a fool to miss it. JD

Films reviewed by:
GB: Gregg Barrios
JD: John DeFore
LMF: Laura Fries
SGK: Steven G. Kellman
WK: Wendi Kimura
AL: Albert Lopez
JM: Jonathan Marcus
AP: Alejandro Pérez
RP: Rich Perin
JW: Joe Weiss
EW: Elaine Wolff

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