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Entries in movie picks (31)

12:37PM

Movie of My Week: "Red Cliff" (2008)

 

Nice conversation with a colleague in the energy field who has lived for years now in the northern Chinese city of Shenyang.  We started talking Chinese history and he vigorously recommended these films - by John Woo no less!  I had heard that Woo was going to concentrate on Chinese history for a bit.  It's a two-parter covering the Three Kingdom's warring period (3rd century AD).

I haven't seen it yet but plan on getting it this nice combo BluRay version.  

7:00AM

Movie of my week: "Bridesmaids" (2011)

Watched it last night at home on BluRay and it was spectacularly funny.  That Melissa McCarthy is simply unreal, like this gruff female Ricky Gervais. Everything she did was funny, which makes me want to check out that TV sitcom she just won an Emmy for.  

Also loved Rose Byrne as the baddie and the always fabulous Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote and co-produced with an old Groundlings pal for Judd Apatow.

Raunchy enough to deserve the R rating, I laughed out loud throughout and just about lost it during the infamous dress-shopping scene.

11:09AM

Mr. Dalit Comes to Class

FT story on new Bollywood film depicting "untouchables" and the discrimination they suffer. The film is already banned in three Indian states out of fear of inciting social unrest.

Ask yourself, what period of US history does this remind you of?

Fair dynamic comparison, although here the pushback comes more from dalit politicians and those in favor of their rights.  Why? Film focuses on quota system for dalits/untouchables set up at time of independence. Upper castes say film makes them look bad, but dalits say film denigrates positive impact of quota system - aka, India's version of affirmative action. 

What I remember from visiting India: it seemed like the taller you were and lighter your skin, the more likely you were more powerful and thus from a higher class.  Conversely, lower caste people seemed shorter (poorer diet) and darker.  So when I mixed with elites, I looked them in the eye, but when I moved among ordinary people, I felt like a frickin' giant. The dichotomy rather stunned me.

If you mention that observation, you tend to get a strong response from Indians who find any comparison to racism in the West to be completely offbase. I'm not sure what you call it, but it strikes me as a deep legacy of discrimination based on birth (meaning you can't change who you are no matter what, which smacks of that "one drop of blood" logic) and thus is reasonably compared to racism elsewhere in the world, despite its "sophisticated" and multivariate application.

Point of post: rising India, like rising China, is racing through a lot of history and "phases" that US went through a much more leisurely pace.  That's incredibly hard but facinating to watch.

Blurb on film only hints at controversy (from Rotten Tomatoes), but understand that Prabhakar has a special space for dalits in his school and that Kumar, who is in love with Prabhakar's daughter, is himself a dalit. This is classic Bollywood (father-daughter conflict over undesirable match) with the twist that here the father is the perceived liberal:

Aarakshan is the story of Prabhakar Anand (Amitabh Bachchan), the legendary idealistic principal of a college that he has single-handedly turned into the state's best. It is the story of his loyal disciple, Deepak Kumar (Saif Ali Khan) who will do anything for his Sir. Of Deepak's love for Prabhakar's daughter, Poorbi (Deepika Padukone), of his friendship with Sushant (Prateik). It is the story of their love, their lively friendship, their zest for life, and of their dreams for the future. Centered on one of the most controversial issues of recent years, with the Supreme Court's order on reservation, the story suddenly becomes a rollercoaster ride of high drama, conflict, and rebellion, which tests their love and friendship for one another, and their loyalty to Prabhakar Anand.

Film is already in US, probably because Bachchan is the Cary Grant of Indian cinema. Done about 300k, so art-house limited.

Be interested if anyone has seen it and can provide impressions.

10:31AM

Movie of my Week: "Source Code" (2011)

A real patische of a movie but so very well executed and engaging stars all around.  Any movie with Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga is o-tay by me.  Good vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal, who needed a win after that Persian mess, and Jeffrey Wright is always a joy to watch on screen.

Tight script that feels like a Philip K. Dick novella, with echoes of "Avatar" and even "Groundhog Day" in the humor.  Bit of "Manchurian Candidate" to boot.  Rod Serling would have approved.

A mere 90 minutes, but when you want that shorter movie and a lot of entertainment for your time, a great choice.  Chicago also looks pretty enough. 

10:16AM

Movie of My Week: "Click" (2006)

Listened to it in the car with the kids on this vacation trip, probably making that about 25 times for me.

And I never get tired of it.  To me, this is right up there with the Ramis-Murray "Groundhog Day" opus, with the added bonus of a great turn by Christopher Walken in a supporting role.

Yes, some usual gross Adam Sandler humor (excellent, really), but some classic life lessons - especially for anybody like myself who, both professionally and personally, lives a life of great anticipation.  Just jumping to the good parts ruins all that.

Case in point: it is fascinating for me to look at Metsu and Abebu and Vonne Mei and Jerry on this trip and wonder what they'll all be like as adults.  But what's the rush? The real enjoyment in that future world must be based on knowing them all along the way - putting in the hours, days, weeks, months and years as parents. There is no genuine payoff without putting in the effort.

All you have in this world is time and the opportunity to help others. The rest is all transitory and illusory.

11:06AM

Movie(s) of my Week: "Lord of the Rings" (Blu Ray, 2001/2002/2003) & "Sucker Punch" (2011)

Just finished rewatching the extended version (digital versions already on my bedtime iPod Touch) with my younger son (born around time these came out) and I must say: 1) Blu Ray is worth it because it all looked fantastic; and 2) this series really is a classic that holds up very well and really shouldn't ever become outdated.  What Peter Jackson et. al did with the books' characters reminds me of the liberties Alan Ball has taken with the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (third season just started is fabulous): moving bits and pieces around to make for a better movie storytelling.

Just a lot of fun for us this past week.

Zack Snyder is an acquired taste, obviously, but his work says interesting things about the future of movies as the Millennials come into their own as consumers.  Previous work showed the deep influence of video games on the look and the action, but this movie really shows the impact on storytelling with its levels of narrative/meaning.  Fun to see Scott Glenn (who looks more like Leonard Nimoy by the day and should still be used as a Vulcan in a future ST movie) and especially nice to see Jena Malone from "Contact" all grown up and still getting work.  She's a really sharp actress.  Great soundtrack too.  According to my eldest, the extended cut is a decidedly different and much improved movie.

11:14AM

Movie of my Week: "Soylent Green" (1973)

 

Been on a Chuck Heston tear lately (Greatest Show on Earth, Planet on the Apes - likewise in a gorgeous Blu-Ray version, and The Omega Man).  Later in his career, Heston did that fabulous trio of sci-fi movies, all of which featured him in pure early 70's anti-hero cinema mode, which he performed magnificently - and against obvious type.

Soylent Green is such the classic, especially since Heston's good friend Edward G. Robinson was in it with him (think back to Ten Commandments, and realize Robinson was slated to play the head orangutan (Dr. Zaius) in Planet of the Apes, but he couldn't handle the make-up).  But Chuck himself is such a sleaze in this movie: stealing stuff left and right, bedding kept women like that's part of the policeman's bill of rights, etc. - all the while being totally virtuous given the larger circumstances.

And it's the larger circumstances which still fascinate me with this movie.  Made in 1972 and projecting half a century to 2022, it posited a planet overrun with population (NYC is some ridiculous 40m!) but primarily bedeviled by climate change (Robinson actually cites the greenhouse effect).  Yes, too many people, but it's the incessant heat and the inability to grow sufficient food that are the underlying problems.

So, strangely visionary for treating climate change so early, but as usual, the fear-mongering got out of control.  As I like to point out in my current brief, you jump ahead to "Children of Men" and it's already positing a future Earth (2027) where we're running out of babies - true science fiction until you visit certain towns in America, or Italy, or Japan, or . . ..

Another thing it gets wrong:  climate change doesn't make it harder to grow food; it just changes the geographic pattern - making it much harder in some places but opening up others (the New North).

Still, a great movie and almost a master's class on how to portray the future cheaply while embedding a cop story inside.  A lot of follow-on movies owe plenty to this one.

12:51AM

Movie of My Week: "The Ten Commandments" (1956)

An all-time favorite, I always watched it every year as a kid when it came on TV, usually making it to  . . . oh, maybe the 6th or 7th.

I remember getting the VCR tape in the late 1980s and just going wild with it, watching it over and over.  I love De Mille's staging of scenes. The guy could wring every little bit of drama out of a moment, and the script really is a thing of beauty, despite the occasional 1950s Cold War pontificating.  Plus, my God!  Anne Baxter and Yul Brenner and Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson, often together in bunches on screen!  With Heston at his finest to boot.  Really an amazing Hollywood spectacle.

When I wrote my Diss, I would pop the tape in every morning and just let it play.  I have probably "watched" it a couple of hundred times and know the script pretty much by heart.

So imagine how excited I was to get the Blu Ray.  Now, I'd seen cleaned-up versions before, and I watched the widescreen version in my home theater, so I knew all the side bits that had been lost in all my previous 4x3 viewings (I saw it once in a movie theater on a Saturday afternoon with my sister Mary in Boscobel WI in the mid 1970s).

But I have to say, the Blu Ray is unreal.  The sets pop out like never before and the costumes are unbelievable. You can see every stitch. I also noticed things in the background I simply never could make out before.  Very cool and often breathtaking in its scope. Plus, somehow they fit it to the 16:9 without seeming to lose anything, and so the you-are-there feeling (my home theater screen goes about 100 inches) was fabulous.    I was mesmerized and it made me happy to think of how many other great films out there will be so rediscovered thanks to Hi-Def.

10:13AM

Movie of My Week: "The Town" (2010)

 

I would say that, after Michael Mann's "Heat," this is my favorite heist-type movie, in large part because I know the scenery so well after living in Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and Quincy, plus my wife Vonne worked the North End and Charlestown as a social worker (big Dennis Lehane fan, she).

And yes, us "tunies" lost several car radios over the late 1980s.

Great acting all throughout, with a number of locals playing versions of themselves.  Plus Rebecca Hall is always amazing, as is Jeremy Renner (nominated).  Blake Lively was also a nice surprise.

I think Ben Affleck is going to have a long career as a director, after "Gone, Baby Gone" and this.  Just solid work throughout on the action, character scenes, the whole shebang.  Eventually, he has to do a movie that's not about Boston, but until he does, I will still see them all.

9:59AM

Movie of My Week: "The Kid Stays in the Picture" (2002)

From IMDB:

Documentary about legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans (the film shares the same name as Evans's famous 1994 autobiography)

I've waited for years to watch this documentary, which is about as innovative as they come in the use of stills and music and period film.  Really a visual feast, and how often can you say that about a docu?

Robert Evans had an amazing life:  born of the Evans-Picone fashion house, he's in Hollywood swimming as a young man and gets discovered by Norma Shearer (widow of Irving Thalberg), who wants him to play her dead husband opposite James Cagney as Lon Chaney. After that first film, gets discovered yet again on a NYC dance floor by legendary producer, Daryl Zanuck, who fights to keep him in a matador movie based on an Ernest Hemingway novel despite the author's public protestations--hence the phrase, "The kid stays in the picture!"

Evans realizes he's no actor and really wants to become a Daryl Zanuck, but how can this pretty boy, east coast fashion heir pull that off?  Evans goes on to run Paramount and produce a slew of famous films, only to suffer a crash later in his career.

The key to the movie is that Evans does all the narration and voice recreations, and it's a stunningly cool performance--very confessional, very arrogant, very everything.

I watched it twice in a row.

12:01AM

Movie of My Week: "(500) Days of Summer" (2009)

Just watched at home with most of my kids.

I loved it, even though the nonlinear plot lets you know "this is not a love story."

What struck me:  my courtship of Vonne in the summer of 1982 went a lot like this movie. The difference was, Vonne, while acting like my "Summer," fortunately turned out to be my "Autumn" in terms of outcome, meaning she became the Day 1 that forever-stuck after my 500 days with somebody else.

You'd have to see the movie to understand that statement.

I've always loved Zooey Deschanel and am consistently impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (remember him from "Third Rock from the Sun?") needs to be appreciated in this role as a contrast to his much-more-serious-and-seemingly-older role in "Inception" (which I just watched for the fourth time on the flight over to Beijing!). Both were outstanding.

Only complaint:  I felt the cinematography was kinda blurry--on purpose, and I like things super-crisp on contrast.

12:03AM

Movie of My Week: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010)

From IMDb:

Scott Pilgrim must defeat his new girlfriend's seven evil exes in order to win her heart.

Yet another movie based on a comic book, but it's a good one and the key here is the inventive, winningly comic director who did both "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" (two Simon Pegg classics).  Wonderful use of graphics, and yes, I could stand Michael Cera in one more go-around of that character of his, which - honestly - works better here than in any other movie, save perhaps "Juno."  Plus, his easy style showcases actresses awfully well, and they're all interesting here.

I will withhold judgment on the uber-serious remake of "Tron," but I'm guessing this lighthearted movie actually comes closer in spirit to the movie/life-as-videogame-vibe most people are drawn to--meaning fun and exciting and vicariously dangerous as opposed to the future dystopianism of "I-can't-escape-this-technological-nightmare!"

Watched it twice and laughed throughout.  Wright does whimsy in all genres and does it well.  It's a real style he's got and it's very funny.

12:06AM

Movie of My Week: "The Ghost Writer" (2010)

From IMDb:

A ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy.

I didn't know anything about this movie beforehand other than Ewan McGregor was in it, along with Pierce Brosnan playing a Tony Blair-like Brit PM just out of power.  Ewan gets hired to ghost his memoirs.  

Oh, and Olivia Williams plays his scheming wife.  I've always had a thing for her because she reminds me so much of Vonne.

Cool cameos by Jim Belushi and Timothy Hutton--both spot on.  Great role with Kim Cattrall doing a great Brit accent.  Wee bit of Eli Wallach to boot, and Tim Wilkinson in a pivotal scene. My goodness, what not to like?

It's a political thriller, of course, but frankly, what really sells this whole movie for me is the scenery!  It takes place on this coolest Mass coast island (Vineyard?) venue with a beach house I would kill for.  

Plus, it's about a writer and all that, and it's got all the requisite tension, thanks to great direction from Roman Polanski (I kept saying to myself while I watched, this is like somebody channeling Polanski and then his name came up on credit!).  Fun for me, because I was actually approached a while back to consider doing this for somebody of that type.

But again, it was the scenery and the house and that whole nasty, dark, windy beach vibe that had me enthralled.  I just wanted to walk onto the screen and live there.  Truly, I would consider it a dream retirement situation.  I love nothing better than walks on the beech along New England's coast during the winter, and I would gladly leave the mainland for an island situation like that, having loved living on Aquidneck Island so much.

I would even write somebody else's life story to make it happen.

Anyway, great movie.  Really top notch and pretty to watch from beginning to end.

12:19AM

Movie of My Week: "The Invention of Lying" (2009)

I am almost always greatly intrigued by Ricky Gervais' work, although I like the American version of "The Office" a lot better, and I thought "Extras" was good but not great.

I actually like him best in standup, where his persona is certainly a change of pace.  He's got an HBO special on On Demand now that's worth catching. 

What has really gotten me to be a big fan of his are his two major movies to date:  Ghost Town (2008) where he acts but does not direct, and this one, where he co-directs and co-writes.

What's weird is that the two stories are strangely similar in their message:  basically about the need to be kind to people.  

Ghost Town did badly (cost 20, did less), but it had Tea Leoni whom I will watch in anything--going all the way back when TV folks thought she was the new Lucille Ball in that little series of hers.  She and the scenario are the two reasons why I make everyone I like watch "Deep Impact" with me--along with "Contact" (big Jodie Foster fan too going all the way to her kid work).

I was really captivated by Ghost Town, so I was truly psyched to see "The Invention of Lying," and yet I missed it in theaters, only to catch it a while back during my speech up in upstate NY.  Like Ghost Town, it was low cost (about 18), but this time it broke even.  I thought the plot and the script were pure genius, and I really liked watching him again as an awkward, unconventional leading man. Jennifer Garner did a very nice job, and Gervais got a ton of great actors to do small bits (Tina Fey, Philip Hoffman--who plays the best dumb guy I've ever seen in a cameo).

But the gripping bit here is how he plays with the notion of religion, which is really fascinating.  I know the notion of somebody just making it all up really offends, but it actually made me wonder about Jesus Christ all the more.  What I took away:  no matter what the path, humanity needs some sense of disciplining logic, and by definition, that is the greatest story ever told.

I've watched it now three times and find it great from start to finish and definitely worth hearing every line.  Gervais also has a very well-done breakdown scene that impressed me a lot.  I think he'd be a great dramatic actor if he ever wanted to do that, but he's just so devoted to his comedy persona, which I enjoy a lot.

Really worth watching.  Makes you think, and the whole portrayal of a society without lies/fiction/storytelling is clever from top to bottom.  You really have to pay attention to every little bit to catch all the inserted cleverness.

I look forward to his next co-directed film, which should be out soon (listed in IMDB as 2010-er).

12:01AM

Movie(s) of My Week: "True Blood" (Season 3--2010), HBO On-Demand

I know I'm in danger of going too long on vampires, but this week's home theater slots were totally eaten up by HBO's brilliant vampire series, based on Charlaine Harris's fabulous mystery series.

Problem was, we resigned up for HBO because of the On Demand system now offered by Comcast (Xfinity), which ends up being cheaper than buying series on DVD and you don't have to go through the nearly year-long wait.  I love the system because it means I can peruse whatever Showtime and HBO series I like at the time of my own choosing.

The Sookie Stackhouse series is a way-cool resetting of the vampire story so as to make it a venue to tackling all sorts of social issues, due primarily to the plot device of the Great Revelation--or when vampires finally came out to humans and negotiated a peaceful coexistence--of sorts. So on top of the usual stuff, you've got all these larger political issues (Vampire Rights Amendment, religious reawakening in response, drug abuse scandals based on humans taking vampire blood, biotech advances because vampire blood can basically save humans from deep medical emergencies, and so on).  

Plus, Alan Ball does such a great job, according to my wife, in expanding the show beyond the book series with new characters and plot lines.  Last season got a bit tiresome with the witch and orgies and what not, but this year, with the vampire king of Mississippi dueling the vampire queen of Louisiana, it was stunningly good.  The addition of the werewolves storyline is especially cool, and the wolves here are much better rendered than in the "Twilight" series.  But Ball gets all the visual details down so right as a rule, that you expect nothing less.

This show has too many fascinating character to recount, with Russell Edgington, the vampire king of Mississippi being my clear villain favorite this season.  No other vampire series or movies come close to the complete entertainment package here.

Again, to me, On Demand is the way to go, because then you just wait til the series is over and watch the episodes bang-bang-bang one a night.

Sidenote:  at recent mystery writers conference, Vonne spent a couple of hours with Charlaine Harris and really enjoyed peppering her with questions.

1:00AM

Movie of my Week: "Let the Right One In" (2008, Swedish)

Was considered the best horror film out of Sweden in years, and it lived up to its billing.  Plenty of creepy vibe throughout (that almost eternal northern winter dark is perfect!), lots of good character study of the European sort, bits of campy fun (a hilarious cat sequence), and an underlying sense of pathos and loneliness that's really quite haunting. What I've always found most interesting about vampires is the notion of immortality combined with non-growth (you live forever--by most canon--at the age at which you were "turned" or "made").  "True Blood" does a great job of this on HBO, especially in terms of lasting vampire relationships ("[We've been married for] almost 700 years, but sometimes, it feels like 7,000!"). But here you have the most basic problem of necessary companionship for a tweener vamp, otherwise how can she function as a minor in society?  On the surface, that seems like not much of a plot, but it works beautifully here, especially since the two young actors are so exquisitely good.  The ending is a grabber, in a great, low-key horror-film way.  

As a rule, I like Nordic horror second only to Korean and Japanese.  These people are still in touch with their monsters and spirits, while we mostly seem fascinated with serial killers and mass murderers of the gun-everybody-down sort.  We have lost the horror vibe here in the States (save for literature), which is why most of our horror films today are remakes, like the one coming out within days on this with my new favorite young actress Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl from "Kick Ass").  Inevitably I will see it again (this film), but I doubt it will be any better, because this one was that good.

[POSTSCRIPT:  Reading Variety's review late last night confirmed my suspicion:  an almost scene-for-scene homage that adds more gore and--sadly--cuts out the killer cats!  It's judgment: why did Hollywood bother? Save yourself some bucks and rent this instead.]

12:01AM

Movie of My Week: "Men Who Hate Women [Swedish]" (2009)

I know we supposedly must all wait on the Hollywood version to fully appreciate Stieg Larssons' book ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and to see his amazing character of Lisbeth Salander be realized in an Oscar-winning perf by some plucked-from-obscurity actress, but the Swedish original is absolutely fabulous, with a thoroughly Oscar-worthy performance by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (just given the female counter-lead in "Sherlock Holmes 2"), who played the character in all three of the "Millennium" trilogy films.  We definitely plan to see the other two Swedish originals, which also star a favorite actor of mine, Michael Nyqvist, although his character recedes quite a bit in the latter two novels.

Worth watching on the DVD is the interview with Rapace, who really transformed herself for the role.

What I liked about it is what I imagine most people liked about the book (which I haven't read): an intriguing pairing of sleuths, a "Twin Peaks"-like death of an innocent that must be investigated, and a well-paced process of discovery with great twists and turns and a very satisfying end.

I will probably read the original book on this basis.

The movie's Swedish title is "Men who hate women."  The backstory on Larssons' need to create the character is a whopper: in his youth he witnesses the gang rape of a girl named Lisbeth by three friends and is haunted--for the rest of his life (he dies before his trilogy is published)--by his inaction at that moment, thus his character of Lisbeth is supremely empowered to defend herself through a set of unusual talents--on full display in this sometimes very disturbing movie.

12:01AM

Movie of my Week: "Kick Ass" (2010)

 

Guilty pleasure.  Saw it months ago with no foreknowledge of the comic, and I was blown away.  Good teenager-coming-of-age movie, most excellent soundtrack (one of the best I've heard in years) and a break-out performance by the young lady (Chloe Moretz) who plays Hit Girl.  

Moretz is Anna Paquin good at that young age, and will be seen next in a vampire movie close to my heart.--the original, that is.  

Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) also went on next to play a young John Lennon in a movie yet to be released.  I think that will be an interesting perf too.

A truly mesmerizing movie that warrants repeat viewings.

12:01AM

Movie(s) of my Week: "Paprika" (2006)

Was really sad to read of Satoshi Kon's passing at 46 from cancer. He was a fabulous anime director, really on par with Hayao Miyazaki.

To note his death, we all watched what we consider to be his masterpiece, "Paprika," which despite the title and slightly goofy tone, is actually on par with "Inception."  Emily, home from college, made the selection, because this is one of her top-3 anime classics.

Paprika (above) is the dream avatar of a scientist who co-invented a machine that allows doctors entry into a person's dreams for the purposes of therapy.  The movie has more amazing visual sequences than just about any anime film you can name, as well as my favorite combo of opening song and credits ever (only Spike Lee's "Inside Man" compares).  If you like anime, you have to know Kon.  

After starting with Hiroyuki Kitakubo's "Rojin Z" as an animator, Kon was able to complete only four films.  

Paprika is the trippiest and most engrossing.  It was also Kon's last completed film.

His first film is a bit rough:  a scary Hitchcock/ DePalma sort of obsessive stalking film that features a brutal rape. It's called "Perfect Blue."  Not for everybody.

Then came my second favorite, "Millenium Actress," which has a Bertolucci quality to it. It is a paean to Japanese film.

Kon's third movie is my least favorite, "Tokyo Godfathers," loosely based on a John Ford western.  It was his most romantic film, whereas the others all had sentiment but a sharp edge.  

Kon was working on a final film when he died.  It's called "Dream Machine" and it's described as a "road film for robots."

Crushing to think the guy would have likely made another ten or so films.  A serious loss to the industry.

12:01AM

Blast from my past: "The Overly Qualified Critic: Esquire's National-Security Expert on the New Film 'In the Loop'" (2009)

 

The Overly Qualified Critic:  Esquire's National-Security Expert on the New Film In the Loop


by Thomas P.M. Barnett

Esquire, August 2009, p. 27.

In the Loop, by veteran British satirist and first-time director Armando Iannucci, is a deadpan farce that wickedly echoes the joint Anglo-American sales job on the Iraq invasion. Imagine dueling diplomatic versions of The Officecolliding at the United Nations over a proposed war resolution, with the decisive press leak sheepishly offered up by a two-timing British bureaucrat to his enraged Foreign Ministry girlfriend as evidence that his bedding an American counterpart was nothing more than an "antiwar shag."

The Brits are fronted by a peace-seeking but tongue-tied cabinet minister (Tom Hollander), who says things like "To walk the road of peace, sometimes we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict," triggering the prime minister's press flack (Peter Capaldi) to retort, "You sound like a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews." The warmongering Americans are captained by a Rummy-esque übercrat (David Rasche) who favors live hand grenades as desktop paperweights and pontificates to baby-faced aides, "In the land of truth... the man with one fact is the king."

The film, which slips in an effortless turn by James Gandolfini (above) as a foulmouthed U. S. general, contains enough fucks to qualify for the Tarantino award at Sundance, where it premiered in January, yet it's the script's many accurate details that earn this former badge-holder's praise, to include: the ubiquitous acronyms whose actual meaning nobody knows, the constant backstabbing among careerists, senior officials who float their resignations with less thought than they give their office decor, and the vigorously hedonistic lifestyle of D. C.'s young single staffers.

Which makes it a hilarious and helpful primer for anyone new to Washington.