The Patriot: The Extended Cut (Sony)
Features: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson and Jason Isaacs
Based, extremely loosely, on the exploits of the Revolutionary War veteran Francis Marion (aka “The Swamp Fox”), this tale of a father’s love for his sons and his country plays with history the way a child plays with Legos… building whatever comes to mind regardless of what the factual directions say must be built. As historical action movies go, this Roland Emmerich film (his follow-up to the fairly awful Godzilla) is a fairly slick affair on par with the best of Edward Zwick’s historical film output. Centering on the father/son relationship between Benjamin Martin (Gibson), a musket-to-plowshares veteran of the French and Indian Wars, and his headstrong coming-of-age son, Gabriel (Ledger), The Patriot takes very little time in establishing the characters in the period of the American Revolution before plunging Martin’s large family into despair as the violence of war comes to their town in South Carolina. While his father knows of the brutality and misery of war, Gabriel feels it’s his duty to join the Continental Army and fight for freedom against the British… of course, things go awry as the prodigal son returns home bringing trouble with him.
Bridge to Terebithia (Buena Vista)
Featuring: Josh Hutcherson, Robert Patrick, AnnaSophia Robb, and Zooey Deschanel
Fantasy and reality collide in this second, bigger-budgeted film adaptation of the classic Katherine Paterson children’s novel. The story, updated to the 21st century’s pop-culture aesthetic hardly takes any real liberties with the book and instead stays faithful to it— not only in essence, but throughout scene after detailed scene. The child performers (Hutcherson and Robb) are wonderful, and miraculously the film doesn’t pretend all adults are insipid villains ready to make children’s lives miserable, rather each character comes across as genuine, especially when tragedy occurs and must be faced and dealt with. In his first live-action film, Gabor Csupo (of Klasky-Csupo animation studios), acquits himself well… making the film a fantasy with a firm footing in everyday reality, making the characters rounded and sympathetic, while creating a believable child’s world view of conflict resolution and grief. It’s a wonderful family film that doesn’t rely as heavily on CGI elements to tell its tale.
Blood Diamond (Warner)
Featuring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Arnold Vosloo and Michael Sheen
The movie that the De Beers company loves to hate, Blood Diamond actually received less mainstream press than I thought it would upon its premier last year. I figure most of the outrage against “blood” or conflict diamonds has already been generated from years of media reports covering the West African conflicts and South African profiteering that occurred during the 1990’s and eventually ended up in a process for ferreting out illegal diamonds mined out of war zones in order to illegally finance insurgent forces and their respective warlords. This process, called the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (with “Scheme” sounding kinda sketchy, don’tcha think?) is supposed to create transparencies in the diamond trade and make those declaring their effusive love each other feel good about putting a high-grade, 4-C rock on the ol’ ring-finger. And that, with the development of character archtypes we care about, is basically the plot for this earnest film that offers plenty of bloody action for the gung-ho and grim reminders for the socially conscious.
Featuring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, and Brian Howe
I didn’t see this film on it’s theatrical release… I’m generally not into manufactured feel-good flicks, but on its video run, The Pursuit of Happyness turned out to be exactly what I thought…