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The Flowers of War (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Director Zhang Yimou, maker of classics like The Road Home and Hero, brings his epic approach to this story based on the 1937 massacre in Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

This is one hell of an ambitious failure. Yimou got himself an American star in Christian Bale (in between Batman movies) and a budget near $100 million. The money was put to good visual use; the film, like many of Yimou's movies, is easy on the eyes.

Yes, it is quite the beautiful mess. It tells the story of John Miller (Bale), an American stuck in Nanjing during the city's violent siege. He's a mortician who is in the city to help bury a priest—and winds up in that priest's church trying to protect its young female students, the priest's adopted son, and a group of prostitutes who have sought refuge.

Bale gives it his all in a characteristically good performance, and he makes parts of the movie worth watching. The problem is that Yimou can't resist his urge to over-stylize things. Blood spurts from victims as if he is making a crazy samurai movie as opposed to the earnest story of war that he was obviously trying to produce.

The romance that he shoots for between Miller and Yu Mo (Ni Ni), the leader of the prostitutes, fizzles because Bale and Ni lack chemistry. Ni plays her role like a Hollywood vamp from a 1940s mob picture, and it feels wrong.

The final act of the film involves the young students being invited to a soldier "celebration" that will probably result in them being brutalized. The ultimate solution that the girls and Miller come up with should have some emotional punch, but it doesn't.

I graded it as high as I did because Bale is great, and the movie looks good. As for the drama, it's a flat affair. Much of the film is in English, but a good chunk is subtitled.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a decent, feature-length behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.

Margaret (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Here's yet another ambitious failure.

In 2000, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan got a lot of critical accolades for his excellent You Can Count on Me, featuring stunning performances from Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, and a directorial style that felt fresh and unique. I, for one, was anxious to see his follow-up.

More than a half-decade passed before Lonergan got in the director's chair again, and he was looking to make something Magnolia-like in scope, with a big cast and a lot of subplots. Unlike Magnolia director Paul Thomas Anderson, Lonergan had a lot of trouble juggling his many plotlines—so much trouble that lawsuits ensued when the postproduction phase went on well past the originally intended 2007 release date. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker allegedly stepped in and had a hand in the editing of the theatrical release.

A pre-True Blood Anna Paquin plays Lisa, a high school student with divorced parents who is shopping in Manhattan for a cowboy hat when a pedestrian is struck by a bus and killed. This scene is handled masterfully, with Paquin, Allison Janney as the pedestrian, and Mark Ruffalo as the bus driver all doing amazing work. I thought I was going to be watching some sort of masterpiece after the scene was over.

No such luck. The film starts to unravel with subplots about Lisa's relationship with her teacher (an under-utilized Matt Damon), her actress mother (J. Smith-Cameron) and the accident investigation. As for Paquin, there are moments when she truly shines, and others when her work is undeniably bad.

The movie is sloppy, yet I still think Lonergan could have some good films in him if he were to calm down and simplify things.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get a DVD featuring Lonergan's extended cut—as if the film weren't long enough already.

American Reunion (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

I had high hopes that this would be the last American Pie movie when I saw that it didn't set the American box office on fire. The movie, which had a $50 million price tag, only made $56 million in the States.

However, it made a ridiculous $176 million overseas. Foreign countries have a big love thing for Jason Biggs, I guess. So you can probably count on further chapters in the saga of Biggs and his pie-dick. As for this film, it's a dull rehash marred by the fact that the majority of the cast can't act for shit.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a lot of stuff on the disc, including an unrated version, plenty of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a director's commentary.

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