A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Thursday, January 24

Winter Movies: Part 2

Somewhat surprinsingly for mid January, it's been a very good—if somewhat light—couple of weeks at the movies.

Written and directed by Alex Gibney (who did the same with the excellent Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and who was also involved as a producer for the pretty excellent Mr. Untouchable and the amazingly excellent No End In Sight), Taxi to the Dark Side is a scathing, deeply affecting documentary of America's systematic use of torture—to the point of murder—on prisoners, held without charges, in Afghanistan (at Bagram), Iraq (at Abu Ghraib) and Guantánamo Bay. The film takes its name from the story of an Afghan cab driver named Dilawar who was picked up by soldiers in 2002 for transporting "terrorists", brought to Bagram, and beaten to death—his legs almost literally pummeled into mush—by Army interrogators. Gibney is a superb storyteller, and here he uses astoundingly frank interviews with Bagram personnel, archival footage of the smug-ass richboys of the Bush administration, and the insights of interrogation experts, to convey the undeniable truth that the Army's policy of torture comes from the top, and that the policy is both a moral travesty as well as a tactical disaster. Next up for Gibney? The presumably much lighter Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Can't wait.

Katherine Heigl is a total movie star. 27 Dresses—about a lovely, selfless woman who's been a bridesmaid 27 times, who secretly loves her boss, who watches said boss fall for her younger sister, who only slowly realizes that the perfect man has been right there in front of her, all along—will not once surprise you with its plotting. And yet Heigl is so appealing as the lead, so goofy and sweet, so incredibly watchable, that I loved nearly every moment of this romantic comedy... especially, of course, the Bennie and the Jets sequence. Also well-played: James Mardsen as Mr. Right. Yes, I laughed, I cried, I heartily recommend this, if this is at all your thing.

You've almost certainly already read waaaaaay too much about Cloverfield, so I'll just say this: sit in the back or risk extreme nausea; disregard both the annoying first act (which worked beautifully as a setup in the trailer, but seems interminable here) and the logic/geographic holes; enjoy the technical, aesthetic challenge, successfully, at times thrillingly, met, of telling such a huge story—a monster attacks Manhattan—with a single camcorder; keep your expectations low; walk home afterwards even more in love with this amazing City.

Although Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona trots out many of the usual scary-movie suspects for The Orphanage—playground equipment that moves slowly, squeakingly by itself; kids who shouldn't be there, standing at the end of hallways, looking totally freaky; a (beautiful) woman who refuses to get the hell out of what is clearly a very haunted house—he does use them all to good, creepy effect. Add a story that's emotionally honest, a respectable performance as a mother-gone-mad from Belén Rueda, and a great first "ending" (followed by a much weaker second ending, followed by a third that's weaker still), and I was willing to forgive whatever silliness came on the screen and enjoy the horrorshow.



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