Whoever said “war is hell” was sure on target. And that saying applies not only to the frontlines but also the home front. What these men and women see during war makes it impossible to forget and move on to lead normal, fulfilling lives once they arrive back home. In Triage, Colin Farrell does not play a soldier…rather a frontline photojournalist who is known for capturing some of the most gritty war footage out there. He seems to thrive on the blood and the gore, at first. Nothing seems to faze him. Or does it? In Kurdistan, where he is covering the latest hotspot of violence, he is injured…in circumstances we do not see. He seems relatively well, physically, but after he comes home, something is wrong…both physically and emotionally. This is a man who had witnessed bodies getting torn apart, piles of corpses waiting to get disposed of, disgusting hospital conditions (even calling it a hospital is a sick joke) and a doctor who marks the “untreatable” soldiers and takes them out and shoots them to end their suffering. So, what makes anything worse than the everyday norm? We later find out that there was something that happened that involved someone he cares about a great deal. And he blocked it out of his mind, as an emotional safety net. Can we blame him? Colin Farrell here is top-notch…some of his best work ever. Trying to convey bottled up emotions can be harder to portray than behaving like an emotional mess and Farrell does the job well. Not for the faint of heart, but this one is a must-see for anyone who likes powerful, riveting dramas.

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Can Winston Churchill be exciting? In this second installment of HBO’s film on Churchill (the first being The Gathering Storm with Albert Finney playing Churchill), the old English Bulldog is pretty darn exciting. Maybe I should preface that by saying the ERA that this film takes place in is much more exhilarating than the timeframe of the Finney film (pre-WWII). Churchill during WWII was a force to be reckoned with. He and FDR formed a powerful, menacing alliance that took the world and Hitler by storm. In The Gathering Storm, Finney did a fabulous job of embodying the Prime Minister, but there was always something a little too “regal” about him. I mean after all, it was Albert Finney under all of that make-up and the years of classical acting seemed to hinder the rough, brash Churchill exterior from coming all the way through. Here, in this film, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson does not have any problem being a true, unadulterated curmudgeon. Gleeson’s performance is truly phenomenal…he’s all fire and brimstone when he needs to be but in the scenes with Churchill and his wife Clemmie, Gleeson shine’s as he lets slivers of Churchill’s soft side peek out. All around, an excellent film about a traumatic time in history…and about the man who made sure Great Britain got though that trauma mostly unscathed.

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I have yet to see all of the 1959 film with Shelley Winters of the same title, based on the same diary, so I cannot compare the two. But, I can say, that this 2009 BBC production is heartfelt and striking. Anne here, played by Ellie Kendrick, is a robust girl (in personality, not in physicality). She’s no nonsense and has to be reeled in from trouble by her ever-attentive father and her nervous mother. And, trouble is not wise for a teenage girl living in an attic above her father’s former place of business…hiding ever-so-delicately from the Nazis in early 1940s Amsterdam. Trouble here could get her killed. And her entire family and the other family living with them killed. Trouble here is not just usual adolescent rebellion, as it is with most teenagers. Trouble, here, is strictly taboo. So, trying her best to stay out of trouble, Anne has to experience her coming of age without privacy, friends, or any of the outside world. She’s worse off than those around her since they are not restricted as much as she is. Anne is restricted from both the world and also from the natural process of growing up. Kendrick does a superb job of capturing the right amount of adolescent frustration and mixing it with anger at the entire situation. And, the other actors are all top-notch also, especially British TV regular Nicholas Farrell, who plays Albert Dussel, the only non-family member (from both families) in the attic. Dussel and Anne share a small room together and he does his best to deal with his own pain while Anne is acting out. Yes, we all know the ending here, but unlike most movies where the ending is inevitable, the filmmakers do an especially good job of focusing on the characters and not the plot. But, this also adds to the sorrow of the story: the characters, especially Anne, are fleshed out so vividly that when their sad fate comes to a close, it’s all the more poignant and heart-wrenching.

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A tough film to sit through, Brothers is a powerful drama that stays with you long after it ends. My appreciation for this film only increased as I thought more and more about its messages and meaning. Based on a Danish film from 2004, Brødre, this intense story revolves around two brothers. At the beginning of the film, one son, Tommy, just is released from prison. He, naturally, is the black sheep of the family. The “favorite” son, Sam, is soon to be heading off to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. While in the Middle East, Sam is presumed dead in a helicopter accident. This family, naturally, makes do the best they can to pick up the pieces and Tommy really steps up and helps out Sam’s wife and daughters. The daughters, in particular, become very attached to Tommy. Sam’s wife, Grace, borders precariously on some romantic feelings for her brother-in-law, though nothing is ever shared between them but a kiss. So, director Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot) melds these images of sadness and sorrow with Sam in Afghanistan, alive and taken prisoner. Then, Sam comes home. He comes home a different man entirely. He simply cannot “kick” the images and bloodshed from his head…he can not get past what he had to do to survive. His daughters are now afraid of the “new” Sam and want their Uncle Tommy. Even his wife sees her resurrected husband as a stranger. The climatic ending still causes a chill down my spine just thinking about it. Brothers is not only an underrated film that is a must see, but it also is filled with dynamite performances by all of the major players. An excellent, yet disturbing film.

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It’s hard to say I loved The Hurt Locker since it is such a disturbing and brutal movie. I will most likely never watch this film again. It’s not the kind of movie you want to re-live over and over again. And, it’s also not the type of film I would usually be drawn to. But, all I know is that I felt moved after seeing it…and that it affected me more than any film has in a long time. I think one of the reasons I was drawn to this film was that no matter what the subject, no matter how brutal or violent, good filmmaking is universal and stands out over all of the hype and other elements of the plot or story. The Hurt Locker is filmmaking at its finest. Never having been to war or even war-torn areas, this film is what I, as a naive civilian, imagine combat to be like. It is gritty and dismal and bleak and, at times, boring. There are men quarreling and having everyday personality issues like you and I do in the workplace. There are anger issues and missing family. There is death. Unlike some war films where the action and personalities of the soldiers and even the violence seems contrived, this film just seemed, to me at least, authentic. Revolving around soldiers in a bomb disposal unit in Iraq, the main character here is reckless and careless. But, he’s good at what he does so others around him are able to mostly excuse his free and easy behavior, especially because they do not want to do what he does. He’s the one who puts on the protective bomb gear and gets up close and personal with bombs. He might be a rebel, but in his dangerous job, rebellion is more of an asset at times than a liability. Like I said, I have no military experience so this feeling of authenticity is not based on anything specific…it’s just what I felt as I was watching the film—that this what be what it is really like over there. Then, on top of the intensity and drama of the film, The Hurt Locker also morphs into a thriller. As nail-biting (probably even more so) as any thriller made in Hollywood today, this war drama will not let up…even after the credits start to roll. With so many trite, predictable films being made today (some even about the war in Iraq), The Hurt Locker stands out among not only other war dramas, but among all other films.
The Hurt Locker: directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie. The Niles Public Library owns copies of this title on DVD.

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Albert Finney plays pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a tee in this historical drama done by HBO. Disliked by many of his Parliament cohorts and thought as a buffoon by others, Churchill, in the 1930s, thought he was on his way out…or at least down…of British politics. Enter Hitler and his pesky little brand of Arians who started taking their rampage through Europe…Churchill saw and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped before most other of his counterparts in Parliament. This desire to defeat Hitler before anymore damage was done is what eventually brought Churchill back into the fray of power in Parliament and eventually to THE position of British power, Prime Minister. But, this film, rightfully so, stops before Churchill comes into power. Rightfully so, since this film is more about the MAN…and the marriage between him and Clemmie than about Parliament and politics and war. Excellent performances by both Finney (who really becomes Churchill in every way) and Vanessa Redgrave as Clemmie.

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Random Harvest could be called a sappy soap opera that is virtually unwatchable. It could be, but in my opinion, it’s most definitely not that. This is a highly powerful and engaging film with…yes, some very improbable circumstances. But, so what? If the acting weren’t as good as it is, maybe this one would have fell into that pile of melodramatic mush. But because Greer Garson and Ronald Colman are so believable and passionate here, I find it impossible not to enjoy the ride. Colman plays a man who has lost his memory during combat duty in WWI. At the beginning of the movie, he is in a mental institution. Garson is the woman who befriends him after he escapes. Of course, Colman and Garson fall in love and then, through a series of circumstances, he regains his memory…forgetting all about his life with Garson. Yes, I know it sounds illogical but trust me, it works…mostly because of the performances. Garson and Colman take the slightly over-the-top dialogue and bring it back into reality. They are both fabulous here…as is the entire movie in general. A great old-fashioned love story for a cold Winter night…or even a hot Summer evening…!

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I think right off the bat this film gets a bad rap since it’s unfortunately grouped with the recent films about the Iraq War. That’s unfair, in my opinion, since this is a strong, edgy thriller that deserves to be seen as a THRILLER and not necessarily as an anti-war statement. Tommy Lee Jones plays a father who, at the start of the film, finds out his son, recently back from the war in the Middle East, is missing. Yes, much of the film does deal with the war, since Jones has to find out what happened to his son while he was over there and if it is at all connected to his disappearance. But, most of the story just has Jones searching for the truth and finding bits and pieces of facts and fictions and putting them together to get some answers. Yes, the story has holes, but based how badly this film was received, it was MUCH better than I thought it would be. So, ignore the propaganda – and just enjoy the movie.

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