Flags of Our Fathers (2006), [R]
Based on the book by James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers is an artistically-masterful reconstruction of the events surrounding Joe Rosenthal’s famous snapshot (which quickly became a symbol of America’s triumph and indestructible spirit). Those expecting a straight-up war-actioner will be disappointed; but if you can appreciate a complex and emotionally nuanced military drama, I’ve little doubt you will find it a deeply satisfying experience – a sobering meditation on sacrifice, valor, the hellishness of war, and the nature of heroism vs. celebrity-ism.
Warrior (2011), [PG-13]
A masterpiece. Set in the violent world of mixed martial arts, Gavin O’Conner’s Warrior isn’t just another dime-a-dozen fight movie: it’s a profound and fiercely moving story about forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. The action is gripping, the performances are stunning, and the emotional payoff is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s the best film of it’s kind since Cinderella Man, and if you haven’t seen it, you must. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Act of Valor (2012), [R]
An intense, roller-coaster of a movie. Featuring a fact-based story, stunningly authentic combat sequences, and a cast headed by honest-to-goodness Navy SEALs, Act of Valor is a rousing and patriotic tribute to the guys who risk their lives for their country and for each other. What the soldiers lack in Oscar-worthy acting chops, they more than make up for in pure genuineness. It’s rather awe-inspiring to see them onscreen; knowing that, for them, firefights and HALO jumps aren’t just Hollywood 8×10 glossy – they do this stuff for a living. The film isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s a welcome antidote to the cynicism that pervades liberal Hollywood: telling us, and rightly so, that the heroes who fight on our front-lines should be honored as such. There’s nothing “glamorous” or “fun” about what these soldiers do – but you sure respect the heck out of ‘em for doing it.
The Book of Eli (2010), [R]
Even when the world ends, the Word of God goes on. The Book of Eli may not be for everyone, due to it’s brutal and often unsettling nature; it does, however, offer something that the vast majority of movies do not: a strong Christian worldview. The Bible is acknowledged as the precious and powerful Book that it is, and stirring themes of faith, sacrifice, and redemption abound. Washington gives a terrific performance as the determined hero, and the Hughes Brothers inject the proceedings with intense pacing and brilliant cinematography. Of course, the film is not a perfect – and it shouldn’t be regarded as a comprehensive, Gospel-tract view of the Christian faith. In the end, though, the pros far outweigh the cons. I hope we see more movies like it.
District 9 (2009), [R]
As a rule, films with abundant strong language do not make it onto my list of recommended movies. But I’m going to make an exception here, for the simple reason that District 9 is an exceptional movie. Harsh and brutal though it is, Neill Blomkamp’s envisioning of the “alien vs. human” scenario offers an intensely powerful story of redemption and self-sacrifice; by proxy, it is also a thoughtful exploration of mass persecution, segregation, and genocide. The premise is brilliantly conceived and executed, the technical details are stunning, and Sharlto Copley’s performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen. In short, District 9 is a combination of potent allegory, ambitious sci-fi action, and emotionally-wrenching drama – and the result is nothing short of breathtaking. In the words of one critic, this is “science fiction as it was meant to be: intelligent and challenging.”
The Next Three Days (2010), [PG-13]
Tightly-crafted, highly suspenseful, and boasting a powerful performance by Russell Crowe, The Next Three Days is a thought-provoking crime thriller that asks, “How far would you go to save someone you love? What lines would you cross to get there?”. From a Christian perspective, the answers given are not all the right ones, but there’s plenty of weighty stuff to chew on nonetheless. It was also refreshing to see family and marriage portrayed as eminently precious things, things to be fought for, not given up on. If only that view were more prevalent in today’s society.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), [PG-13]
A refreshingly unapologetic pro-American thrill ride. You don’t wanna miss this one. It boasts fine acting, superb visual effects, a dash of humor, plenty of imaginative action, and a slick retro vibe with sci-fi gizmos galore. Best of all, Steve Rogers makes for a hero who is genuinely heroic through and through. There’s no doubt about it: Captain America is the best movie of 2011, and possibly one of the greatest superhero films ever made. To quote another critic, “Hating on Captain America just isn’t American. Go ahead and move to Canada; I’m sure they have some magical Mountie who’s thwarting evil loggers.”
13 Assassins (2010), [R]
There’s one brief scene of non-sexual nudity (easily skipped), but on the whole, this movie is a deeply stirring tale of courage and sacrifice. It’s about good men taking a stand for justice even when the odds are stacked against them. The story is intelligently told, exceptionally well-paced, and executed with a dazzling panache, and the acting is top-notch from the entire cast. But my review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the climactic battle sequence: a masterful 45-minute ordeal of gritty sword-slashing mayhem. The choreography is nothing short of jaw-dropping. To quote another critic, “Does Guinness World Records have an entry for longest on-screen fight? If it doesn’t, Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins just set it. And if a record actually exists, Miike’s film just broke it.”
I Am Legend (2007), [PG-13]
I’ve seen this one multiple times, and after each viewing, I always reach the same conclusion: I Am Legend truly is an under-appreciated gem in the realm of science fiction. The story may be grim, but it’s also exceptionally beautiful, and overflowing with profound biblical themes. Director Lawrence’s computer-generated rendering of a decaying Manhatten, NY is extraordinary and Will Smith carries the entire film on his shoulders, turning in one of the finest performances of his career as the lonely but determined Neville.
Win Win (2011), [R]
A dramedy of the highest order, with genuine humor and pathos. It’s about love, forgiveness, and life; about making mistakes, owning up to them, and doing the right thing the next time around. It also presents a superb picture of how subtly we often justify our own self-interest by telling ourselves that we’re just “doing the right thing.” The script is brilliant, the characters are quirky and believable, and the cast is flawless. Do yourself a favor and check it out – it’s a winner all the way.
Read part one and part two of this list. And if you’ve got any recommendations of your own, be my guest and leave a comment – whether you’re a guy or a gal!
The Next Three Days
(Music from the Motion Picture)
Composer: Danny Elfman
Running Time: 70 min.
I must admit that Danny Elfman has never been one of my favorite film composers. Even so, his score for the 2010 thriller The Next Three Days blew me away. Instead of an uninspired collection of action cues, Elfman’s score is surprisingly poignant and deep, blending quiet humanity with desperation, urgency, and heartache.
Prologue opens the album with a bevy of strings and a short, sweet piano theme that’s hard to forget once it gets inside your head. Pittsburgh’s Tough is a genuinely moving piece (all the more so if you’ve seen the film), while Don Quixote and It’s On let loose with dramatic intensity. A Warning is slow, bittersweet, and haunting; it’s followed Breakout, a brilliant cue marked by edgy string writing and a sprinkling of electronica. The Truth pretty much wraps things up, and of all the tracks, it’s probably the most hopeful. Also included on the album are two songs by Moby, Mistake and Be the One.
Buy the MP3 album on Amazon.com or iTunes.