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Thumbnails February 2009

by Tony Medley

Taken (10/10): Wow! Director Pierre Morel delivers a non-stop, high octane thriller that never lets up. Liam Neeson’s 17-year-old daughter, Maggie Grace is kidnapped by some Albanian white slavers in Paris. Neeson is an unlikely action hero, and this adds to the mystique as he uses all the skills he has honed as a CIA operative to seek out and punish the bad guys as he tries to find Maggie. There are bodies all over the place. There’s not a lot of time spent in contemplation. Nor is there any hint of giving in to political correctness. The bad guys include Arab sheiks and Frenchies without scruple, and Liam uses everything at his disposal, including torture, to find his daughter in 93 minutes that fly by with heart-pounding speed.

Frost/Nixon (5/10): History is made by the people who write it, not the people who actually do the deeds, and this film is a prime example. Just as Tudor writers besmirched the reputation of Richard III, the last Plantagenet monarch of England, so do Hollywood leftists like Director Ron Howard do the same to conservatives and Republicans. Frank Langella adopts Shakespeare’s portrait of Richard III for his impersonation of Nixon, even to walking stooped over; it almost looks like he has a hump. Worse, although Nixon could be ponderous, his speech patterns weren’t anywhere near the caricature Langella creates. Nixon was no saint, but he was no Langella, either. Despite his admitted bias in making this film, Howard is a sometimes talented director, and this is a sometimes entertaining film with a good performance by Michael Sheen as David Frost.

Valkyrie (8/10): Bolstered by a terrific cast, headed by Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Terence Stamp, Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg is the weak link in this true story of an assassination attempt on Hitler. Even though most know the outcome (I’m astonished at the number of people who have said they were unaware of this attempt, including Cruise) it’s fascinating because of how they almost pulled it off.

Gran Torino (7/10): Although Clint Eastwood is still fascinated by death as a way of giving up, at least he’s in his Dirty Harry mode. Despite his initial prejudice Clint comes to the aid of his next door neighbors, a Hmong family, to defend them against a local gang in this entertaining movie that eschews politically correctness.

Slumdog Millionaire (7/10): This is an inventively told movie directed by Danny Boyle that uses the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” to show what life can be like in modern India. The basis of the film is that orphaned Dev Patel tells his story to a policeman who is torturing him before the final question because he thinks he’s cheating, explaining how he got to know the answers to each of the questions. The first hour is pretty slow, but it picks up in the second hour.

Paul Blart Mall Cop (7/10): The first half hour fulfilled all my low expectations. Paul (Kevin James) is pictured as a pathetic loser who washed out of police school and ended up as a Mall Cop. However, when a group of robbers take over the Mall, the movie quickly changes from a piteous low intellect attempt at humor to an entertaining, light-hearted takeoff on Bruce Willis and the “Die Hard” movies.

Bride Wars (2/10): This is an infantile chick flick about two vacuous women, best friends for life, who go to war because their weddings are scheduled at the same time, date, and place. If there is a more offensive movie made in 2009, I don’t want to see it.