Mr. Movie

Stop-Loss an eye-opening look at toll war takes on soldiers

Desperate to keep its numbers up, stop-loss is where the military forces a soldier due to be discharged to do an extra tour of duty.

Stop-Loss follows three soldiers returning home from Iraq. Anxious to put it all behind them, Ryan Phillippe (Flags of Our Fathers), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout) and Channing Tatum (Step Up) try to adjust to civilian life.

This terrain has been explored in dozens of excellent films and is nothing special. Where co-writer/director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) and her partner Mark Richard give the plot an electrifying turn is in the stop-loss of Phillippe’s Sgt. Brandon King.

The young man is a patriot who signed up to defend this country after 9/11. He has fulfilled that obligation. Forced to choose between love of country, love of family and what is fair and just, King loses no matter which way he goes.

Interviews done with hundreds of soldiers, families and the widows of those killed in these conflicts aided Peirce in giving three dimensions to this kid’s plight. Her film isn’t a commentary on the validity of the war and the dialogue avoids preachy cliches. She, too, is a patriot concerned about the dilemma faced by soldiers caught in the stop-loss vice since 9/11.

Stop-Loss begs Americans to look hard at the toll the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking on a very tired and understaffed military.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars.

Rated R for mature themes, violence, language. Opens today at the Columbia Mall 8.

21

Jim Sturgess is Ben Campbell, a math whiz from MIT. He hooks up with Kevin Spacey’s calculating card-counting expert and, with other students, trots off to Las Vegas to rake in a fortune.

21 is based on a true story. Translation: a bunch of MIT students did develop a complex card-counting system, won a lot of money, were totally pampered, had wine, women and song, and generally lived lives envied by hedonists everywhere. They also had to keep away from Vegas security. There was no villainous mentor.

Gambling movies are difficult. As a spectator sport, it ranks up there with bingo. How the story is engineered and how tension integrates into the plot are the factors that determine interest.

For those who love the glitz of Vegas, young, vibrant actors and predictable plots, tap the table and take a hit. The rest of you will want to fold and cut your losses.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars.

Rated PG-13 for mature themes. Opens today at the Carmike 12 and Fairchild Cinemas.

Funny Games

Two young men hold a family hostage. While tormenting and torturing their victims, they are unfailingly soft-spoken and polite. The evil Eddie Haskell act quickly wears thin and you find yourself wishing for a speedy trip to the climax where these guys get theirs.

You don’t get it. While moving from A to the much-desired outcome of Z, writer/director Michael Haneke — who also did the European version of his film — loses his way. Most of the time. you are a third-party observer. Suddenly, the psycho leader leans into the camera and asks a question. Then you’re ignored for a long time before he does it again. Another problem is a head-scratching bit where the guy grabs a remote and does a rewind that changes the outcome of a pivotal scene.

One static shot in the living room lasts so long that a woman in the audience got up, went to the restroom and was back in her seat before the scene switched.

Yes, you will be bored. Yet Funny Games drips with tension and has an uncommon discomfort level. Though it is not necessarily good, this movie will stay with you for days.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars.

Rated R for violence, extreme situations, language, mature themes. Opens today at the Carmike 12.

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