28 posts categorized "based on true story"


Editor and publisher: Reining in Mr. Write

Colin Firth, left, as Max Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe in "Genius." (Marc Brenner/Roadside Attractions)

In the movie industry and in film critic circles, there's a term called a parking lot movie.

That's a film so good, so compelling or so thought provoking that movie-goers emerge from the creative darkness of a theater into the harsh bright light of reality and talk -- and perhaps argue -- about what they have just witnessed all the way to the car.

Genius, the dramatic verbal sparring match between early 20th century novelist Thomas Wolfe and his editor-publisher Max Perkins, drove me far beyond the aforementioned parking lot.  For the greater part of this morning, I've thrown myself into digging deeper into this volatile relationship between one of the most important writers of his lifetime and the word master who published and molded his work into Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River.

Pairing accomplished British actors Jude Law and Colin Firth perfectly as Americans Wolfe and Perkins, Genius dares to stick closely to something rare in a based-on-truth night at the movies:  truth.  We can thank a trio of filmmakers for that.  The movie is based on A. Scott Berg's biography Max Perkins:  Editor of Genius.  Berg spent nearly a decade developing his Princeton University senior thesis on Perkins into the biography.  Gifted screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, Any Given Sunday, Hugo) has fought to get this film to the screen for 20 years.

As for first-time director Michael Grandage, also from Great Britain, the respected actor-playwright has the most difficult task of all; combining all the elements into a cohesive biography of two towering forces of literature who may have been forgotten, or almost forgotten by too many.

I like the way Grandage doesn't feel the need to mention the Great Depression in words in this drama set partly in 1929.  His scene where Wolfe and Perkins walk down a New York street and encounter a soup line for the first time suffices nicely.

Genius is a clash-of-the-titans extravaganza not of swords, sorcerers and special effects, but of words.  I can assure you the battles here are just as grisly.  Every word or phrase lost by the loud, grandiose young author who writes furiously in pencil using the top of a refrigerator as his desk wounds Wolfe deeply.

Jude lays the Law down with rare, bombastic abandon as Wolfe, challenging, befriending and fighting with expertly skilled Charles Scribner's Sons editor-wordsmith Perkins.

Firth has the tougher acting chore as the editor who has previously worked with  novelist titans F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms).   The best actor Academy Award winner for The King's Speech in 2010 perfectly corrals Perkins' quiet demeanor into a wordsmith who doesn't just correct spelling and grammar.

Perkins was perhaps the first truly great editor-collaborator.  His keen sense of story structure and ability to pare down phrases to their true essence is at first celebrated by Wolfe, who delivers his second manuscript to Perkins' office in several crates.  The novel that would eventually become  Of Time and the River originally numbered 5,000 pages.

It's not easy for women to stand out in a male-dominated movie.  However, Laura Linney (The Truman Show) and Nicole Kidman (an Oscar winner for The Hours) make the most of their screen time as Perkins' devoted wife and Wolfe's mentally unstable mentor/lover.

It's probably no accident that Genius arrives in movie theaters on Father's Day weekend.  Wolfe's writing, especially in Look Homeward, Angel, was, in his own words, "the search for the father of our spirit."  Perkins, the father of five daughters, nurtures Wolfe at times like the son he never had but always longed for.

If I can fault Genius for anything, it's for trying too hard to include all the elements of the Wolfe/Perkins relationship.  Fitzgerald weaves in and out of the story fairly effectively, but Hemingway's inclusion, brief and sporadic, seems tossed in just to include his weighty novelist reputation.

That's a small flaw, indeed.  Any movie that compels us to want to learn more about the real people behind the characters, is a must-see for everyone. 

Beyond that, Genius is an exciting journey and a true joy for anyone who respects writers and loves the power of words.

From this aisle seat, sublimely crafted words are the real special effects.

MPAA rating: PG-13 ( Some thematic elements and suggestive content)

104 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  3½ (out of 4)



'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,' an intoxicating war drama

Lance Cpl. Andrew Coughlin (Evan Jonigkeit) and Kim Baker (Tina Fey) use their weapons of choice in a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" firefight. (Paramount Pictures)

Here’s my only real beef with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: It’s a witty, gritty war-correspondent drama posing, or more appropriately being marketed, as a comedy, which it is not.

Is it because Tina Fey, one of our most gifted comedians, is out front as a stateside cable news producer thrown into the explosive turmoil of the Afghanistan war zone in the early 2000s?

Could it be because the co-directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, co-wrote the hilarious darkly comic Bad Santa and aimed for something like the late Robert Altman’s comic-war drama MASH of 1970?

Well, “Atten-hut,” film-making soldiers. What you have marched to the screen here is a superbly nuanced drama (with occasional comic turns, granted) about a cable news desk jockey.

Kim Baker (Fey) is a producer so mired down in a life where she “writes news copy for dumb pretty people to read” that she’s willing to venture to a war-torn country where fecal matter actually permeates the air. She’s not quite as emotionally bottomed-out as Tom Hanks’ character was when he agreed to leap into a fiery volcano in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), but she’s close.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is based on print journalist Kim Barker’s 400-page The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Screenwriter Robert Carlock, an Emmy winner for his work on NBC’s 30 Rock, which also starred Fey, focuses on the author’s sometimes horrifying adventures in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Baker, asked point blank by fellow war correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie of Focus and The Wolf of Wall Street) if she can borrow Baker’s video crew for sex, is tossed first into the Fun House, a sex, booze and caustic comic dormitory of sorts for war reporters, then the war itself. Fitting in as a seasoned journalist is out of the question at first. She marches off to war with a bright orange backpack and fatigues that still have a store label on the pants leg.

But a funny thing happens once Whiskey Tango Foxtrot gets past all the slightly irritating stabs at dark war comedy. A beautiful drama emerges. Fey, as so many comedians are, turns out to be a superb dramatic actor. She plants her feet solidly in this conflicted character who becomes a seasoned war reporter in a hurry and may just become a little too intoxicated by the rush of real explosive danger.

In fact, this is a film overflowing with funny folks who are also gifted dramatic actors. Billy Bob Thornton, who played (and will play again next Christmas) the title character in Bad Santa, is outstanding here as Marine Col. Walter Hollanek, a leader with a constant 2,000-yard stare and a devotion to his men and duty.

Even though this film was shot in New Mexico, it captures the filth, the poverty, the desperation and the conflict of the Middle East extremely well. One of the things it does best is reveal Baker’s view of what she witnessed there as a journalist embedded in the chaos.

Extremely gifted actor Alfred Molina (Love is Strange) is so immersed in his character of budding government official Ali Massoud Sadiq that he’s almost impossible to recognize. Up-and-comer Christopher Abbott (A Most Violent Year) might just find that his performance as Fahim Ahmadzai, Baker’s fixer (interview arranger) is a catapult to stardom.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit series), as flirty, quick-witted photographer Iain MacKelpie, and Fey create some real screen magic as two lost souls flailing about trying to find some direction in their lives amid the madness of war.

Despite the fact that the filmmakers even make a feeble inside joke with the first letters of the military lingo title, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (You get it, right?), this film excels as what it is; an extremely well-acted drama about flawed humans fighting to keep even a loose grip on humanity.


MPAA rating: R (pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images)
111 minutes
Jalapeño rating: 3½ (out of 4)


'The Butler' could learn from the butler

President Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and Cecil Gaines in the cinematic White House. (The Weinstein Company)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
does something its title character, poised, non-intrusive White House butler Cecil Gaines, would never consider.  It rushes and over-serves. 

Generally, though, The Butler, as the sprawling political drama was called until a title squabble necessitated the addition of director Daniels' name, is a noble project of keen interest to anyone willing to take a hard look at the grittier side of U.S. history.

It should come as no surprise that Forest Whitaker, the Academy Award-winning title character of The Last King of Scotland in 2006, is superb to the point of jumping into the Oscar contender’s race again as Gaines.

Whitaker waved his fist in the air and screamed orders as dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.  As Gaines, though, one of his generation’s most gifted actors gets under the skin and into the soul of a humble man whose granite backbone was forged as a young boy when he witnessed ruthless mistreatment of both parents on a cotton farm in the Deep South in 1926.

 Slavery may have officially been a thing of the past by about a half century by then, but this film’s early  scenes may inspire some in the audience to dig out a history book and check to make sure.

First as an act of survival, then as a vocation, Gaines learns to serve.  Once he makes his way to Washington, D.C., the observant servant lands a job first at a fine hotel and finally at the White House, where he stands out as a loyal African-American serving wealthy white folks.

The Butler begins to flounder when it becomes apparent that Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of Precious:  Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009), and screenwriter Danny Strong (Game Change on HBO) haven’t set out to tell a personal story, but a personal story that will touch on every significant moment in black history from cotton field violence to Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House.

Not since Little Big Man (1970), which featured Dustin Hoffman and spanned about a century of Old West history, has a film bitten off so much.  Even with a running time of 12 minutes past the two-hour mark, The Butler rushes along; alternating scenes of Gaines serving seven presidents from studious Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to gregarious Ronald Reagan, who is very well-acted by Great Brit Alan Rickman, with Louis, Gaines’ eldest son who migrates south for college and chronicles the civil rights movement.

Some characters come and go swiftly in this father-and-son tale of reverent service by the elder that contrasts sharply with rebellious freedom fighting by the son.  That son, by the way, is performed without flaw by David Oyelowo (Lincoln), who appeared last year in Daniels’ The Paperboy and could be in the running for a supporting actor Oscar himself.

Oprah Winfrey also brings strong support as Gaines’ longsuffering, often boozed-up wife Gloria.  Perhaps a bit advanced in age to pull off scenes as a young adult, the near-legendary TV chat host and media mogul performs her difficult character with nuance and skill the rest of the way.

I also enjoyed Jane Fonda’s brief scenes as Nancy Reagan.  Not just for Fonda’s acting chops, which she has long displayed, but just for the irony of Fonda, the über liberal, portraying the wife of a famously conservative U.S. president.

It would be a mistake to think of The Butler as the accurately portrayed story of a humble man who had a backstage pass, as it were, to history and polished the White House silverware as his ostracized son fought on the front lines of the civil rights movement, however.

This is a case of a story “inspired by” the extraordinary life of Eugene Allen, who actually served eight presidential administrations.  Strong’s screenplay merely uses the real story (which can be found in Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post piece titled A Butler Well Served by This Election as a dramatic launching pad.

Characters and historic conflicts are inserted to stir the dramatic pot wildly when, from this aisle seat, the man and his humility would have served the dramatic purpose just fine.


MPAA rating:  PG-13 (some violence and disturbing images, profanity, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)

Running time:  132 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  3 (out of 4)


Hopkins gets exorcism 'Rite'

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, as the old saying goes, but it's everything in "The Rite."

Anthony Hopkins slings some holy water in an exorcism thriller that ranks as horror only because it's based on real events.

It's interesting that Swedish director Mikael Håfström cast Hopkins in the role of eccentric, legendary priest Father Lucas.

Some would say -- and I would be right there with them -- that Hopkins played hop-scotch with the devil himself as cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs," his Oscar-winning role of 1991.

Hopkins' veteran exorcist character is the axle that drives the wheel in "The Rite."  He's not, however, the leading man.  That would be relative newcomer Colin O'Donoghue, the Irish actor who appeared in "The Tudors" on Showtime.

O'Donoghue portrays Michael Kovak, a U.S. seminary student with, shall we say, issues.  Never intending to become a priest, Michael ran to the church to get away from his undertaker dad (Rutger Hauer), who, if not possessed himself, definitely spiked the wacky meter.

Not-quite-Father Kovak is chosen for Vatican exorcism class in Italy despite his doubting ways.  Once there, while arguing that most "possessed" souls might just be in serious need of some psychiatrist couch time, Michael meets a fetching female journalist ("City of God" co-star Alice Braga) and the aforementioned Father Lucas.

"The Exorcist," of course, is the film by which all serious exorcism films must be judged.  "The Rite" falls short of that film's now-famous showiness.  Looking for pea-soup projectile vomiting and head-spinning?  You're in the wrong place.

Instead, "The Rite" creeps up on you and might just creep you out.  It's based within the actual framework of what the ageless fight between good and evil, God and Beelzebub is all about.

And there's this:  Hopkins can still get it done when he's got a meaty script to dive into.  And he's got one here.

"The Rite" isn't a great exercise in cinematic exorcism.  It is, however, a powerful enough piece of possession-related drama that'll have you gripping the armrest of your seat tighter than usual.


'Fighter' almost up for the count

Serious movie lovers know that any boxing drama based on real people enters the cinematic ring on the ropes and with the ref pointing and counting.

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro saw to that with "Raging Bull," the boxing movie of all boxing movies in 1980.

"The Fighter," though not as precise with its dramatic punches, matches "Raging Bull" blow-for-blow in authenticity and, in some cases, outrageous, offbeat style.

Scorsese used extreme slow motion, animal noises and blood splattering onto ringside fans to orchestrate pugilistic history into big-screen entertainment. Director David O. Russell, every bit as eager to punch his audience below the belt, goes for a big family, big 1980s hair and the fighter's big brother, mentor and failed idol sucking on a crack bong.

A dream project for star Mark Wahlberg, "The Fighter" instead becomes a macabre showcase in human and emotional transformation for Christian Bale. He may play the Caped Crusader in the modern-day "Batman" franchise, but it is as fighter-turned-crack head Dicky Eklund that I long expect to remember Bale's riveting acting.

Wahlberg is "Irish Thunder" Mickey Ward, the little brother once in awe of his elder, then later poised to perhaps get a title shot that his brother tossed aside for a crack not at a title, but at more crack cocaine.

"The Fighter" is such a good stirring pot for drama, in fact, that I found myself wishing Wahlberg were the great actor and Bale merely supported his performance. That's how it should be in a perfect cinematic arena.

But let's not be quick to criticize Bale's outstanding talent. His Dicky never chews the scenery in order to steal a movie. Instead, Bale gets so far under a real person's skin that it's impossible to muzzle a persona that pranced to the front row in prison like a movie star at a world premiere to take a seat for an HBO documentary on addiction that chronicles his downfall. Dicky truly believes it to be a showcase of his boxing comeback.

Like "Raging Bull," "The Fighter" will have you squirming in your seat at times. In addition to the usual tale of the cinematic tape that unfolds in steely Lowell, MA (and actually shot there), this is a drama that nails an equally vicious preliminary match between the boys' manager mom, Alice (Melissa Leo), and Charlene (Amy Adams), Mickey's steel-willed girlfriend.

Actually, the women are almost as intriguing as the men in this heavyweight battle of wills. Leo is the Oscar nominee as the desperate single mom of "Frozen River."

Adams is cast way against her usual softer type. Make no mistake, though, the double Oscar nominee ("Junebug," "Doubt") who shared the screen (if no scenes) with Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia" is up to the challenge.

"The Fighter" isn't quite world champeen caliber like "Raging Bull," perhaps because Russell doesn't quite congeal all the excellent parts into a master work whole, as Scorsese managed.

Go for the performances, though. Three out of the four lead acting turns are knockouts.


Carrey's frantic love call for 'Phillip Mor-ris'

Jim Carrey has been waiting a very long time to make a dagger of a movie like "I Love You Phillip Morris."

This outrageous tale -- based on actual events, by the way -- about a family man turned con man turned gay con man desperately trying to impress his soul mate, but having to continually bust out of jail to do it, is not a drama as such.

It's a black hole dark comedy congealed with drama.  In this case, that's an odd dynamic perfectly suited to Carrey's charismatic charm and fits of wild abandon.

If you're wondering just how dark the comic elements might be, know this.  "I Love You Phillip Morris," based on former Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Steve McVicker's book, is co-written and co-directed by writing partners Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Can't quite place the names?  Ficarra and Requa are the screenwriters who fed Billy Bob Thornton's outstanding way-down and way-dirty performance in "Bad Santa" (2003).

"Phillip Morris" sneaks up on you.  When we first meet Steven Russell (Carrey), he's a seemingly happy family man playing organ for the church choir in Virginia and working as a police officer.

Never quite getting over the fact that his mother gave him up for adoption, Steven bends the rules, using his law enforcement computer to track down his birth mother.  The meeting doesn't go well, and "I Love You Phillip Morris" launches into a tale of self-discovery about living a lie (he's gay) and learning that his outgoing nature may be more suited to a career as a con man than a cop in uniform.

One of the things I like best about this raw embracing of a person's inner (and long-hidden) drives is that the co-directors (in their initial feature film effort) and Carrey flamboyantly keep the tone pedal to the metal.

Maybe it's because I've seen Carrey not reach his full potential in films like "The Number 23" (2007) and "The Majestic" (2001) that I celebrate (perhaps along with him) for gathering up his comic charisma, his likable on-screen nature and his yearning for dramatic effect and rolling it into an improbably charming cinematic snowball.
While refreshing, this is one snowball that hits us in the gut and leaves a mark.

Set primarily in Texas (but shot in Louisiana), "Phillip Morris" chugs along at a brisk pace.  Steven meets Mr. Right (Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris) in jail, then goes more than a little nuts busting out of confinement on several occasions to be with the man he loves.

Leslie Mann, who shared the screen with Carrey in  "The Cable Guy" (1996), brings proper charm and dismay to Debbie, the wife left not for another woman but for a man.  Any man, in fact, at least in the early going.

McGregor scored his own acting triumph this year in "The Ghost Writer." He tones everything down to play Phillip, who, in the long run, becomes as perplexed about Steven as his former wife did.

"I Love You Phillip Morris" will likely blindside you with real, growing sentiment near the end.  Not the fake kind, either, like in "The Majestic," a failed barely disguised remake of "It's a Wonderful Life."

I'm talking the real thing; convincing dramatic acting from a gifted comic who has always wanted to move his audience without a scrunched-up face or a pratfall.

I love you, "Phillip Morris," for finally giving Jim Carrey that chance.


And ... 'Secretariat' is just a little off

A horse movie is a horse movie, of course, of course.

Unless it's "Seabiscuit," the seven-Oscar nominee of 2003, which, unfortunately, "Secretariat" is not.

The latest race around the track may be about a supremely gifted horse that defied the odds to win the much-coveted Triple Crown in 1973.  But "Secretariat," though heartfelt and well-acted in some quarters, is overly theatrical at times even for a Cinderella story.

Filmmakers have choices to make when they glorify real-life triumphs for movie audiences.  The creative challenge is to raise the audience's emotional pulse with larger-than-life moments that feel real, or are at least close enough that we can pretend they're sort of real.

In this third outing in the director's chair,  TV writer/producer Randall Wallace ("We Were Soldiers," "The Man in the Iron Mask") fails to corral the over-the-top fairy tale-like emotions at times.

Diane Lane, the fine actress nominated for an Academy Award as the title character in "Unfaithful" (2002), puts on a stern face to portray Denver housewife and mother Penny Chenery Tweedy.

Unwavering in her determination to make her ill father (Scott Glenn) proud as his health steadily fades, Penny abandons her own family in 1969 to shepherd a family horse farm  in Virginia in general and a glistening colt she calls Big Red in particular.

The world will see Red as Secretariat, which scribes at the time and history later dub "superhorse."

John Malkovich, one of the finest actors working, takes on the dubious task and outlandish wardrobe of fiery trainer Lucien Laurin.  Malkovich's hats are so garish in this historical horse opera that I wouldn't be surprised if the two-time Oscar nominee ("In the Line of Fire," "Places in the Heart") didn't request to keep his wardrobe solely for the purpose of burning it.

Even excellent actors can be saddled with lines that fall below their ability to recite them.  Sadly, that's the case here.  "Secretariat" screenwriter Mike Rich, using William Nack's book "Secretariat:  The Making of a Champion" as a "suggestion," had better luck scripting "The Rookie," another real-life sports drama in 2002.

"Secretariat" is not without merit.  It's beautiful to look at in spurts, for instance.  And the five horses that stomp the turf for Big Red all bring honor to a great slice of American history that, unfortunately, is too well known to thunder to the cinematic finish line with the desired lump-in-the-throat dramatic effect.

But what the hay, it's entertainment, right?


Facebook friends, enemies, gripping drama

All movies have a rhythm, a feel to them.

"The Social Network" bears a beat so pulsating, dangerous and inviting that you almost ride or wear this movie instead of merely watching it.

Buoyed by director David Fincher and his team's precision filmmaking skills, the tale of the troubled formation of Facebook purrs across the movie screen like a panther waiting to pounce.

Based on Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires" and a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, who also adapted "Charlie Wilson's War," "The Social Network" buzzes around a hive of controversy and turmoil about as far removed from social -- and especially socially correct -- as one can imagine.

Jesse Eisenberg ("Zombieland") is out front as Mark Zuckerberg, the nerdy Harvard computer whiz who -- according to the movie, at least -- dives into writing social network computer code in a frenzy after having an argument with girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara).

Fincher ("Fight Club," "Seven") sat back a little and let the special effects of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" do the heavy creative lifting for him.  Not this time, though.  He returns to dramatic creative excellence with a vengeance.

When Facebook, or The Facebook as it's first dubbed, begins to take off like wildfire, Fincher intercuts two civil suits against his lead character without skipping a beat or losing the attention of his audience.

Good acting helps, and Eisenberg, who drew notice as the troubled teen of "The Squid and the Whale" in 2005, is up to the challenge as a computer genius.  His Zuckerberg is aloof, quick with a cutting remark and easily guided into choppy business waters.

The circling shark in this case is Sean Parker, the former Napster founder portrayed without a flaw by Justin Timberlake.  Parker nudges his way into the Facebook corporate structure like a determined-at-all-costs cockroach squeezing under a locked door.

Equally mesmerizing is the laid-back, but emotionally wounded turn by Andrew Garfield ("Never Let Me Go") as Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg's close friend.  He provides the seed money for Facebook then faces betrayal on two fronts.

From this aisle seat, it doesn't matter so much whether this is an accurate portrayal of a social network empire exploding and imploding right in front of our eyes.  All feature films distort facts, blend or ignore characters and stretch the truth to larger-than-life cinematic proportions.

What is ultimately important is the entertainment ride.  Fincher, editor Angus Wall (who has worked with Fincher before) and everyone on both sides of the camera combine tremendous efforts to pump out one of the finest emotional thrill rides of the year.


Onward Jewish soldiers

Four young Israeli tank soldiers, overgrown Jewish boys, really, rumble across a border, onto an unfamiliar road and into a life-changing war.

"Lebanon" is a riveting war drama unlike any I've seen.

In Hebrew with subtitles, "Lebanon" takes us inside the cramped, clanking tank as the Shmuel (Yoav Donat) the gunner, Assi (Itay Tiran) the tank commander, Herzl (Oshri Cohen) the ammo loader and Yigal (Michael Moshonov) the driver try to survive a world suddenly gone mad.

Their only connection with the outside war zone comes via increasingly distraught visits by Jamil (Zohar Strauss), the commander on the ground.

"The Hurt Locker," the reigning Best Picture Oscar winner, captured the angst, fear and madness of American bomb de-activators in the current Middle East conflict last fall.  

This is 1982 and Israel's first war with Lebanon.  As these young men rattle down a dusty road and into a bombed-out village, they take the audience with them in the tank.  If you're anything like me, you'll almost be able to feel the heat, feel every jerky movement of the armored tin can with a huge gun attached.

Writer-director Samuel Maoz is making nothing up.  This terrifying ordeal (or something very similar) is what he experienced inside a tank as a shell-shocked young Israeli soldier 28 years ago.  Almost all of "Lebanon" is viewed from inside the tank; through the green-hued cross hairs of a gun sight.

This is not a scenic journey or view.  Terror and horror will be seen from there, as are a mesmerizing shot in extreme slow-motion of rapidly approaching gunfire.  

It took Maoz a quarter of a century to look back in horror and find the fortitude to transfer his tortured soul into screenplay form.  He captures it extremely well.  In fact, well enough to win the Golden Lion Award at last year's Venice Film Festival.

I often wonder why we as movie-goers line up for intense war dramas that rip out our emotional guts as they blow up the guts of others.

Movies like "Lebanon" are why.  Extremely well-crafted good ones like this and "The Hurt Locker" convey the physical and emotional pain soldiers endure so that others don't have to.

Except in the safety of a darkened movie house.


Short takes: 'Get Low,' 'Love Ranch'

Lowpicuse Every small town seems to have a legend bouncing around -- perhaps for decades -- about the town grump, or hermit or outlaw.

Felix Bush, portrayed without a flaw by Oscar-winner Robert Duvall in the period heartfelt drama "Get Low," however, is based on the real thing.

In the late 1930s, Felix "Bush" mostly stayed to himself in the backwoods near Kingston, Tenn.  His only companion was his mule.  Fearing death in his old age, Felix paid for a funeral "party" and turned the offbeat proceeding into a lottery, which attracted a huge crowd from miles around.

You should know going in that "Get Low" is not a happy-go-lucky story, despite the co-starring performance by Bill Murray as opportunistic funeral home owner Frank Quinn.

"Get Low" also features a solid performance by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek, who plays a woman from Bush's past who returns to town just in time for his final, premature farewell.

Summing up:  Excellent acting; a heartfelt delight.

3 jalapeños out of 4.  100 minutes.  Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content.

(Bill Murray, left, and Robert Duvall photo courtesy:  Sony Pictures Classics) 

Very little critical love for 'Love Ranch'

Ranchrevuse I'm not going to lie.  I had high hopes going into the based-on-truth drama "Love Ranch," and feelings of major disappointment once the closing credits rolled.

Question to self:  How can the rock-solid director of "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Against All Odds," "Dolores Claiborne" and the excellent Ray Charles musical biopic "Ray" let something like this happen.

Especially with his real-life wife, Oscar winner Helen Mirren (for "The Queen" in 2006), in the lead role.  Mirren and Joe Pesci attempt to portray Grace and Charlie Bontempo, the husband-and-wife owners of Nevada's first legalized brothel in the late-1970s.

The acting is flatter than the Nevada desert.  The dialogue by screenwriter Mark Jacobson is mundane and the production itself feels like something put on by a small-town theater group on an off night.

Summing up:  One of the worst films of 2010.

1 jalapeño out of 4.  94 minutes.  Rated R for sexual content, pervasive language and some violence.

(Joe Pesci, left, Helen Mirren photo courtesy:  E1 Entertainment)