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Monthly Archives: September 2007

Craig Ferguson’s film on the Iraq war has been called a documentary, an exposé, and an indictment. In a way, it is all three. He provides many factual accounts from those involved in the decision-making, combat, and reporting of the war. He exposes the actions of several politicians and key planners, and, quite clearly, their mistakes. He then accuses such authorities of making a grave mistake that cost Americans and innocent Iraqis thousands of lives.

No End in Sight begins with a Donald Rumsfeld press conference in which he emphasizes that the war is simply too complex for most Americans to understand. In the following thirty minutes, Ferguson successfully disproves that statement with engaging insight into the mistakes that were made in the early planning stages of the war, most of them by Rumsfeld, Bush, and by the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which was doomed from the start. The first act of the film is gripping, informative, and, above all, incredibly frustrating. I couldn’t help but want to get up from my seat, reach through the screen, and strangle some of the men on screen. Naivety, ignorance, and laziness are inexcusable characteristics of men making such important decisions regarding the fate of several countries, including their own.

As soon as I was good and fired up, though, the film encounters some major pacing-related problems. Edited by Chad Beck and Cindy Lee, the film begins to feel like endless successions of talking heads incessantly describing every mistake made regarding the war. By the end of the second act, the film had become so redundant and repetitive that I had been desensitized to any potentially emotional and frightening revelations later on. As the men on screen argue, though not directly to each other, about the proper terminology and sequence of events, Ferguson gets bogged down in a world of nearly incomprehensible information. Maybe someone who took a very keen interest in all the political and military details would be fascinated by these endless ramblings, but I was nothing more than bored by it.

Regardless, it is clear that Ferguson and the editors know what they are doing, for the most part. Narration by Campbell Scott, a severely underrated actor, is very well placed. He never just describes what we are seeing, but serves as a way to complement the images with new information. Most of the storytelling in a documentary happens in the editing room, and, despite the aforementioned issues, its pretty spectacular. When text is used to reveal information, the haunting score disappears, emboldening the usually devastating information. 

Also remarkable is the way Ferguson refuses to make villains of Bush or Rumsfeld, a huge fault of Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. Sure he exposes their angering leadership in-capabilities and negligence, but he never proposes that they are the enemies. They simply made very poor decisions that had overwhelmingly tragic consequences.

No End in Sight provides plenty of information that will be new to most Americans in a way that is sometimes compelling but often times numbing. The biggest problem I had with it was, at the end, when Ferguson decided to tell the stories of some injured Veterans. It was not so much the way he did so as the effect it did, or rather didn’t have on me. I was so taken out of the film by all the stuffy politicians and experts that I could make no emotional connection to these victims of the war. Still, the incompetence he exposes makes the film worth seeing, if only for a dose of pessimism that will make everyone hope for nothing but an end. B-


The fall movie season has officially begun. Films from some of my favorite directors (PT Anderson, David Cronenberg) are coming out, as are some surprisingly promising films from directors I consider ridiculously overrated (Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers). It all begins, though, with a film from a director I considered underrated, James Mangold. And what has he chosen for his follow up to Walk the Line? A remake. A remake? Didn’t I say this was the beginning of fall, not summer? Well at least he’s giving an under-appreciated western the retouch.

3:10 to Yuma is the story of family-man rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who decides to make some cash by escorting famed outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to the train station where he will catch a ride to Yuma to be hanged. Wade had recently burned Evans’ barn and stolen his livestock, so the tension is already there, right? Well…not exactly. The film actually takes quite a bit of time to gain momentum, which can be attributed to the extra thirty minutes Mangold tacked on. Still, none of this exposition is dull; the only problem is actually the way its edited. McCusker is a little quick with the razor, especially given the genre. It pays off in the showdowns, but not otherwise.

What’s gotten the film the most attention are the performances by Bale, one of my favorite actors, and Crowe. Both are good, but Bale was better in Rescue Dawn, and Crowe’s performance in American Gangster looks even more promising. Peter Fonda as a bounty hunter, on the other hand, is exceptional. He hasn’t been this good since The Limey, Steven Soderbergh’s masterpiece. 

The script, penned by a team of three, is a little heavy-handed in its moralizing, and some lines are predictable and, frankly, lame. Otherwise, the story is nearly perfect. Wait, the story? They didn’t really come up with that part of it, so I guess that leaves….nothing. Many are quick to criticize the ‘implausible’ ending, but I find it to be perfect, especially as Crowe’s performance accelerates. The film closes with a masterfully composed score that stuck with me all day, and should be the film’s only chance at an Oscar.

So the question remains: is 3:10 to Yuma the best way to begin the fall movie season? When compared to Shoot ‘Em Up and The Brave One, I have to say that it is. It’s a thrilling western that is generally well paced, gains momentum just in time, and features good performances. Is it better than the original? Well, Ocean’s Eleven is the only film to break that curse. B+

Hey all! If you have a minute, check out a short film I just made that I plan to use as part of my application to NYU. Sorry for the poor quality, youtube is a pain in the butt.

A snippet of Alex’s review of Superbad was recently featured in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Also, the reviews may soon begin appearing in a newspaper near you. And by a newspaper near you I mean Hudson High School’s The Explorer.

As a side note, reviews to expect in the coming days/weeks include:

3:10 to Yuma
Shoot ‘Em Up
No End in Sight
Across the Universe
Eastern Promises
In the Valley of Elah
The Darjeeling Limited