news: Foster in The Messenger.
by Oren Moverman
friend and I were recently discussing, with some astonishment,
the fact that solid movies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—or,
rather, the people who fought there—have had little box office
impact, no matter how good the reviews. Of course, we were
able to acknowledge that people simply don’t want to be reminded
of what’s happening to their fellow Americans while we continue
to lead relatively normal, if more cash-strained, lives. There
are several scenes, both chilling and heartbreaking, in the
great The Best Years of Our Lives, in which the returning
servicemen try, with varying degrees of success, to fit back
into their pre-war, civilian lives. The loss of commonality
among lovers, spouses and family, the delicate yet permanent
rupture that separates civilians from those who have served,
permeates Years, and in some ways provides a backdrop
for The Messenger.
(with Alessandro Camon) and directed by Oren Moverman, The
Messenger follows Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson)
and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), members of
the military’s Bereavement Notification Team, as they crisscross
a military town and its environs (actually, Fort Dix) to inform
next of kin that their loved ones have been killed in action.
While war hero Montgomery, recently returned from a harrowing
tour of duty in which he suffered grievous wounds, has doubts
as to his capacity to provide counseling, Desert Storm vet
Stone assures him that their job ends at a recital of the
facts of death; a grief counselor follows up with the “NOKs.”
One might think that a series of notifications would prove
redundant, but just the opposite proves true. Stone and Montgomery
never know how their news will be met, or even if they’ll
be allowed entry to homes whose inhabitants shirk from the
cold hard reality of why they’re there.
movie progresses, the relationship between the two men evolves
slowly from senior officer/junior officer to a sort of friendship.
Stone, so rigid and by-the-book on the job, is much more of
a mess after hours, as he struggles to stay sober and flirts
with anything wearing a skirt. His late-night calls to Will
interrupt the latter’s attempts to stop remembering by pounding
beers and blaring headbanger music. The military calls Will
a hero, an honor he heartily discounts, and when he finally
opens up to Stone about his experiences, it’s done without
drama or pathos, but, in a manner befitting a bereavement
notification officer, straightforward and to the point. Harrelson
has never been stronger, and Foster manages the fine line
between still-vulnerable young man and efficient military
expert. Both are bound, in fact maybe even preserved, by their
military training and discipline; it’s what keeps them from
cracking under pressure, from completely going off the deep
has been written about a scene in which the two men confront
Olivia (Samantha Morton), a widow whose chief concern is that
they get off her lawn before her son gets home. As they intone
the script, she shakes their hands, then proceeds to ask routine
questions such as whether she should notify her in-laws. Her
crisp, if nervous, efficiency is almost shocking, until you
remember that scores of other young neighborhood moms, silently
thankful that they’ve been passed over, are watching from
their own yards, and that suddenly, Olivia isn’t one of them
but a war widow, somebody marked by Death. While this scene
is, in fact, notable, it pales in comparison to two later
ones in which Montgomery, somewhat guiltily drawn to her,
joins Olivia in her kitchen in what may be a moment of tentative
foreplay, and later, in which the two meet on her front lawn
to discuss what’s next. Each is almost like a ballet, in which
the participants are compelled toward each other and yet maintain
a precarious distance, nervous about what they could be getting
into—and we can see why. They’ve both been on the receiving
end of the worst that war can give.
by Scott Stewart
latest apocalypse flick, Legion, the inspiring quote,
“My name is Legion, for we are many” can be taken as a reference
to the many movies that it rips off, rather than the multitude
of zombies, er, angels, er, demons, that provide the action.
Aside from the names of the two warring angels, Michael (Paul
Bettany) and Gabriel (Kevin Durand), Legion has almost
nothing to do with bible stories and a lot to do with modernizing
The Terminator for audiences who might be more concerned
with conflicts from On High than renegade machinery. According
to the film’s smidgeon of philosophy, God has lost faith in
his favorite creation, and wants to exterminate the human
race. Michael is the “good” terminator, er, angel, in that
he falls to earth to protect mankind from God’s wrath. Gabriel
is the bad terminangel, because he is carrying out God’s orders.
Or rather, legions of demonized average citizens are doing
of sorts is created at a desert gas station owned by Bob (Dennis
Quaid), who is a bitter divorcee and paternal supervisor of
his staff of three: Percy (Charles S. Dutton), a one-armed
fry cook; Jeep (Lucas Black), an innocent redneck mechanic,
and Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), a waitress who is eight months
pregnant. Just as Armageddon is unleashed, the staff and customers—including
Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), the kind of armed loner that every last
outpost really needs—are attacked by a little old lady who
turns demon, insults the customers with her foul language,
and then rips out a man’s neck with her piranha teeth. Michael
arrives just in time to reveal God’s vengeance, and to protect
Charlie, whose unborn baby, he says, will be mankind’s great
hope. Hope for what, exactly, isn’t given much attention,
although Charlie’s resemblance to Linda Hamilton’s character
in the Terminator is as close to a prophecy as the
film can be bothered with. As for Bettany, he appears to be
in actual pain from playing a role that is underwritten almost
to the point of non-existence.
shock value of kindly citizens being revealed as cranked-up
zombies is repeated several times, and, par for the course,
the lucky few at the gas station are picked off one by one,
as Gabriel sends in reinforcements. Competently directed by
Scott Stewart, the action is predictable, and predictably
alternates with scenes of interpersonal dialogue, along with
a wisp or two of humor, as when Percy tells his non-believer
boss: “In case you haven’t noticed, these aren’t exactly our
regular customers.” The closest thing to a revelation in Legion—which
occurs during the expected wings-of-steel angel smackdown—is
that special-effects wingspans are much improved since The
Prophecy movies of the 1990s.
beauty: Cruz in Broken Embraces.
by Pedro Almodóvar
long career, Pedro Almodóvar has fearlessly mixed genres and
moods within films—sometimes to great effect, sometimes capriciously.
His latest, Broken Embraces, finds Almodóvar at the
top of his form: With extraordinary grace, he has wrapped
a comedy inside a film noir inside a story of forgiveness.
a moment to realize that writer Harry Caine (Lluis Homar)
is blind. After Almodóvar lets us in on this fact in a wonderfully
salacious scene, we see the mundane life of a middle-age writer
and the people in his orbit. There is his devoted literary
agent, Judit (Blanca Portillo), and her son, a DJ with his
own literary aspirations, Diego (Tamar Novas).
also shown a newspaper obituary of a wealthy, powerful businessman,
Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gomez). The film, which has a contemporary
setting, then shifts back in time to the early 1990s. We see
Martel at the height of his power, and are introduced to one
of his assistants, Lena (Penélope Cruz, never photographed
more glamorously). It’s clear that he lusts for her, and she
wants nothing to do with him. Circumstances, however, result
in Lena becoming obligated to her boss—and it is rarely pleasant
to be under obligation to the wealthy and powerful.
it is revealed that Harry used to go by a different name;
that he used to be a film director; that he was directing
a film starring Lena, and they became involved; and that it
all ended horribly.
has a different visual scheme for each story he tells. The
present is light and airy, but remarkably colorless; the past
is dark and sleek, with dramatic colors. The film within the
film, Girls and Suitcases, is Almodóvar’s Women
On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in disguise, and revels
in that movie’s outrageous color palette and violent slapstick.
has a lot of fun with scenes relating to the movie business.
(There’s a story pitch for a vampire series that sends up
the current horror mania—and actually sounds more interesting
than any of the recent vampire flicks.) And it has moments
of utter terror, as the noir plot twists into a tangle of
obssession and violence.
in tone are startling, but pay off beautifully. Broken
Embraces presents us with acts of pure evil, yet ends
on a hopeful note—a small portion of redemption that’s well-earned.