Review: Restrepo

1 03 2011


Director(s): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

Rating: R (for language throughout including some descriptions of violence)

Length: 93 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10

Summery: RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.

After the war in Iraq, the last thing people want to know about, or even care about is the War in Afghanistan. Still, it’s going on as we speak, and our men and women are dying there. Restrepo provides an interesting prospective not only on the War in Afghanistan, but also war in general, and the people who fight in them. In this sense, the documentary actually does do a good job giving you a glimpse into these prospectives. But the documentary is also a double-edged sword that is done in such a way where I personally found it an OK film with great moments.

The most interesting parts of the documentary for me were simply the interactions of the men themselves. A small platoon charged with holding a valley, there lives mostly consist of simply biding time until they’re shot at. They dance, they wrestle, they sing, but mostly they just make conversation. In one scene a soldier is setting up a grenade launcher while holding a simple conversation that goes something like this:

SOLDIER: Your family has a ranch?

SOLDIER: Of course.

SOLDIER: Like cows and pigs and chickens and horses ranch?


SOLDIER: Like what kind of ranch then?

SOLDIER: It’s like a, a ranch just with like land, you know, with gates and stuff and trucks and what-not, you know.

It’s simple, but it also speaks volumes for the experience they’re going through. They’re in a remote valley in Afghanistan. There’s no TV, no internet, no movies. There’s mostly just each other.

A Simple Firefight

Also interesting are the platoon’s relationship with the local people. The locals are simple farmers working harsh land living in an isolated culture based on tradition and religion. Understandably, they dislike the soldiers and their presence in their valley immensely. The leader of the platoon at one point is shown having to convince the tribe leaders that he won’t run the operation like the previous platoon leader, who apparently ticked them off. That’s at the beginning of the 15-month deployment. Relations soon deteriorate in the months following from a cow being killed by the platoon, civilians are inadvertently killed in a firefight, and towards the end of their stay, the platoon leader is shown saying “I don’t f**king care” at the grievances brought up by the leaders.

Diplomatic Relations

In more ways than one, this is one of the hardest aspects to get through of the documentary, but also in the war period. At one point the tribe leaders actually journey to the outpost to speak with the platoon. At first, one of the soldiers tells the camera that since this has never happened before, this action is very positive and shows progress in the relations with the locals. However, the leaders have actually journeyed to the post because they’re really ticked about that cow being killed. Apparently the cow had been caught in a fence, and seeing that the cow was suffering, the platoon killed it. The tribe of course is displeased at this action, and demands repayment, in the form of a lot of money from the US government. When denied this request however, saying that they can only offer the tribe food and the like, relations deteriorate even more.


The battle of “hearts and minds” is referred to as a derogatory term by the men, referencing the semi-ultimate point of their mission. Their primary objective is to clear the valley of insurgents. In this, the establishment of the outpost named after the film’s namesake is seen as a great victory for the mission since it’s the farthest they’ve ever pushed into the valley before. Keep in mind however that the “outpost” is actually a glorified hole they’ve dug and surrounded with barriers filled with dirt, with a few canvases stretched across to provide a shelter. This glorified hole on a hill is considered by the men the greatest accomplishment of their deployment.

This brings us to either the film’s greatest strength, or its greatest weakness. That is to say that all the proceedings shown are ultimately pointless. It’s waiting around to be shot at, and in between you might gain a little bit more ground on the enemy, but they’re still lurking in the hills, just waiting to kill you, with the ultimate support of the locals that ultimately hate you being there. That’s the War in Afghanistan according to this film. A mostly pointless effort that’s more trouble than it’s worth. Granted, I kind of came to that conclusion myself, since the film doesn’t exactly spell anything out, but all the pieces are there. You’re watching a pointless effort.


The Filmmakers Behind The Camera: Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington

The question ultimately is whether Restrepo is worth watching. And ultimately, it’s kind of a personal decision, and what you’re looking for by watching the film. If you’re looking for war action, then you’ll mostly see descriptions of the actual action as told by the men. If you’re looking for a film about the slower moments of war, about a more personal side, then this effort will ultimately service you. If you’re looking for a look at the current War in Afghanistan, then you’ll also get that. For me, I had a range of emotions watching the film. At parts I was interested, at other parts I was angry, other parts bored, other parts frustrated, other parts intrigued. Ultimately however, if you do watch it, I can’t really find a scenario where you’ll want to watch it again. It’s an interesting work, but it’s just not one I can heartily recommend.



3/5 Leguizamos



Review: Extras

12 02 2011


Season 1:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 6 30-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, is an extra. You know, the people milling around in the background of a movie, never getting any lines, or more than a few seconds of screen time. Still, Andy and his friend Maggie have big dreams to break into actual acting roles. The episodes usually revolve around Andy trying to achieve this dream. Whether it’s convincing people that he should get a few lines of dialogue, or trying to sell them on the script for the sitcom he’s created.

I’ll be honest here, I picked up this show, my first rental from the library of the semester, as the Golden Globes awards reminded me how much I love Ricky Gervais and his trademark brand of humor. Frankly though, the first season is kind of a chore to get through. Gervais or any of the character don’t really add anything that we haven’t seen before on Entourage, or the little-seen but excellent Party Down. In fact, Andy’s attempts to achieve his dreams come off more annoying than anything.

In the episode, “Ben Stiller,” Andy befriends/manipulates a man whose life-story is being made into a movie directed by Ben Stiller, into getting speaking role. In previous roles where Gervais has played this same type of character, like in “The Office,” he had people in the environment to play off of, or at least would call him on his self-serving antics. Here, it more often than not just feels like he’s taking advantage of those not wise enough to call him on said antics. It all just seems a little too self-contained to really be taken as funny. His friend Maggie does get a good sub-plot in an episode where she tries not being overly sensitive on race when she starts dating a mixed-race actor. This type of plot is familiar to the Gervais staple, but it’s hilarious all the same.

The saving grace of the season however are the celebrities that cameo in the episode they’re named after.. Since Andy is working on an actual movie set, real-life actors are usually around, and they always come into contact with Andy at some point during the episode.  Kate Winslet will come around for instance and give advice to the characters on their sex lives. Patrick Stewart will talk about how he’s writing a script whose situation’s usually involve a topless female. However, Ben Stiller may have the best cameo as the director of a war film he’s making because in addition to people watching Dodgeball twenty times in a row due to its funniness, he also wants people to feel something. This Ben Stiller also has a proclivity for inserting the gross of Meet the Parents into a conversation whenever possible. So yeah, it’s pretty hilarious.

I will also compliment the show on using a Cat Stevens song as its end credits song. By the end of the first season I had fully memorized Stevens’ “Tea For Tillerman.”

Season 2:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 6 30-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, has finally sold his sitcom with the help of Patrick Stewart, to the BBC. The show becomes a huge hit, but with it Andy must sell his creative soul as the character he plays in the show resorts to catchphrases and wearing funny wigs to draw comedy.

Ah, what a change of venue can do for your show. Along with the drastic change of settings and circumstances for Andy, the show also figured out a lot of the problems that the show was having. Stephen Merchant is better integrated into the show for example.

But the best change is the large-stage that Andy now finds himself on. Andy’s still the jerk he ever was, but now when he’s a jerk, the whole world knows about it due to his drastically increased popularity. As such, the sporadic trickle of comedy from the first season now becomes an ever-flowing stream.

Probably the series’ best moments come in the form the episode “Daniel Radcliffe.” In the episode, Andy complains about a child making too much noise in a fancy restaurant, and when he brushes of the child’s mother, the media runs with the story absolutely killing Andy’s reputation as the story grows ever more out of control. But of course, the episode ends with Andy inadvertently getting to a fight with dwarf actor Warwick Davis, and knocking him unconscious. Andy got his fame by selling out for a sitcom. But fame just means that everybody in the world knows the mistakes you make. Andy Millman, mostly due to his personality, makes a lot of mistakes. Let the career suicide begin.

I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me, it’s hilarious.

The celebrity cameos are also somehow funnier. During the season, Andy’s friend Maggie somehow becomes attracts the affections of a self-obsessed Orlando Bloom is absolutely baffled when a woman doesn’t instantly want to throw herself at him, and a sex-obsessed Daniel  Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter. And unlike the previous season whose major star cameos for that episode would only be known in Britain, this season boasts an impressive array of A-list cameos.

If you’re wondering, you can essentially skip Season 1 and not miss much plot wise, and jump right into Season 2. In fact, you could watch Season 2 only, and be better off for it.

The Extras Christmas Special:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 1 84-minute episode

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, is more famous than ever due to his show. But he wants more than a character who spews catchphrases and wears silly wigs. So he gets a new agent and leaves his still-popular show determined once and for all to become a respected actor. As suspected, things don’t go as planned.

As with “The Office,” Extras had two very short seasons, then ended their show. Then of course a year later, they came back with a “Christmas Special” which essentially took a look at the characters a year later to give them more closure. Unlike The Office however, Extras probably should have just left well-enough alone. I mean, the 2nd season won an American Emmy Award for Best Comedy. Season 2 had left the series off in a nice place, but due to audience requests and the like, they brought it back for one last special to wrap the show up.

The Christmas Special isn’t interested in laughs as much as it is focusing on Andy’s journey to gain respectability. This of course leads into an existentialist look on fame itself, and everything one goes through to achieve it. It’s basically the same message the series has been peddling all along, but now there’s no laughs to offset it. And if there’s no laughs to offset it, you’re entirely dependent on the message, then it has to be presented well.

I don’t want to go into the details of it, but essentially Andy makes a speech on Big Brother renouncing essentially everything that has made Ricky Gervais a successful actor. And at least in my opinion, it comes off as pretentious. Your opinion will vary on his decision, and the whole special in general, but I didn’t care for it.

The Extras Christmas Special:

Chris Martin & Andy Millman as his sitcom character

Overall, Extras is at its best is a hilarious parable about how being at the height of popularity just means that your mistakes have that much farther to fall. At its worst, its a pretentious and unfunny bore done better in a myriad of other places. I would be more than happy to reccomend the 2nd season (2nd series if you’re British), and give it 5 Leguizamos. But as/is, it’s bookended by a season and a special that I would each give 2 Leguizamos. But since I’m judging the series as a whole, I give it:

3/5 Leguizamos

Must-See & New In Film: The Febuary Edition

9 02 2011



Director(s): Lars von Trier

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Rating: NC- 17 (for Some Explicit Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, and Disturbing Violent Imagery Including Self-Mutilation)

Length: 108 minutes

IMDB Rating: 6.7/10

Alright, so maybe this isn’t a must-see outside the arthouse crowd, but this film is notable in how messed-up it is. I will never see this movie because I was nothing-short of cringing just reading description of the events of this film. Basically, the son of this couple dies, and while they retreat to their cabin in the woods, some messed-up stuff happens. It’s so extreme in fact, that when it first premiered, four people reportedly fainted. Critics didn’t exactly love this one, but if this is your type of movie, then good for you. Just don’t use it as a date movie. This is strictly an arthouse feature.

Beauty & The Beast:

Director(s): Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson and Richard White

Rating: G

Length: 84 minutes

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10

One of the best Disney animated features of all time and coming at heart of the late 80s/early 90s Renaissance, this film still holds up as this fantasy romantic comedy.  I watched this quite a few times when I was a kid, and it’s been in ownership in various formats in my family ever since.  I would go as far as to call it a classic movie, and it’s pretty much a must-watch for any Disney or animation fan.

The Blob:

Director(s): Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.

Starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut and Earl Rowe

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 86 minutes

IMDB Rating: 6.2/10

One of the perennial monster movies of all time, The Blob is the essentially the classic monster movie from the 1950s you think of. You know, two teens are on a date when something falls from the sky, it turns out to be an alien lifeform and said lifeform proceeds to destroy things. Ridiculous? Yes. If anything, you should watch this if only for reference for the various parodies that have been coming ever since. This film also notes Steve McQueen’s debut as a leading man.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

Director(s): David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton

Rating: PG-13 (for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking)

Length: 166 minutes

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10

Not going to lie, that length is kind of brutal. Despite the talent involved, and its numerous Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, Benjamin Button got sort of a mixed reaction. The film moves at a glacial pace, the relationships are sort of iffy, and the action is few and far between. But that’s just me. Many critics loved the film, and it went on to gross over 300 million dollars worldwide. I personally wouldn’t recommend watching it, but if the film interests you, then check it out.


Director(s): Catherine Hardwicke

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Billy Burke

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and a scene of sensuality)

Length: 122 minutes

IMDB Rating: 5.6/10

Let’s face it, if you wanted to see this movie, then you probably would have seen it by now. But if you just finished the books, then this would be a good time to get started on the movies. Obviously, your enjoyment will vary. You might like it genuinely, like it ironically, or not like it at all. You may even think it’s OK, or that its overrated.  There’s no right answer and no way to tell unless you actually view it with your own eyes.

Twilight: New Moon

Director(s): Chris Weitz

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and action)

Length: 130 minutes

IMDB Rating: 4.5/10

Not going to lie, I’m on Team Jacob. Again, your opinion on this film will vary, but one thing for certain is that its indie-infused soundtrack is genuinely great. But I’ve even seen differing opinions on that. Basically, these films are very hard to peg.

Twilight: Eclipse

Director(s): David Slade

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality)

Length: 124 minutes

IMDB Rating: 4.8/10

Since this film is fairly new, you actually might want to check it out if you haven’t had a chance to rent it or watch in theaters yet. I like to watch my Twilight films in the non-judging comfort of my own home, but that’s just me. I’ve heard this film isn’t quite up to the standards of the first two, but opinions will obviously vary. I’ll let you know what I think when I finally get my hands on it… in the comfort of my own home. Don’t judge me.


Director(s): Christopher Nolan

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action throughout)

Length: 148 minutes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Pretty much blowing the minds of the whole world, Inception is a film that can be enjoyed by everybody, and whose quality the world is better off for having. A completely original script from the mind of Christopher Nolan, Inception builds an utterly epic world, makes you care for a bunch of likable characters played by one of the best ensemble casts of recent memory, stuns you with its visuals, keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time, and in the end, it’s just the journey a father will take to reach his kids. There’s something for most everybody, and the films success speaks to it, as well as the constant water-cooler talk the film experience throughout the year. Inception was a rare event to bond over. To love, and to be collectively blown away by. Christopher Nolan, I’m still trying to find the rest of my brain after you blew it away.

The Kids Are All Right

Director(s): Lisa Cholodenko

Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use)

Length: 106 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

Exploring the dynamics of a same-sex relationship and family, the film explores important and relevant social topics. Nominated for a bunch of awards, and winning many, I haven’t seen this film yet, but critics sure seemed to think it and its message were worthy of a watch.

Lucky Number Slevin

Director(s): Paul McGuigan

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman

Rating: R (for strong violence, sexuality and language)

Length: 110 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

I vaguely remember hearing about this film once upon a time, but it never seemed major enough for me to pay attention to. Still, Josh Hartnett and Bruce Willis shooting things? I’m down with that.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Director(s): Edgar Wright

Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kieran Culkin

Rating: PG-13 (for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references)

Length: 112 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

Knowing/hoping this blog’s primary audience is that of college students, I think I can wholeheartedly recommend this to you since you’re probably part of the only audience who’ll like this film. Think 500 Days of Summer except with more action. This is a tale of love and emotional baggage told in one of the most original ways possible.  Its pop-culture and video-game influences are many, its music is amazing. Just try this film out. Judging from the audience I saw the film with at IG Greer on the App State campus, I think you’ll be pretty pleased.

Winter’s Bone

Director(s): Debra Granik

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes and Garret Dillahunt

Rating: R (for some drug material, language and violent content)

Length: 100 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.4/10

People have been telling me to see this tale of a girl from the Ozark’s search for her father for the past year. Critically lauded and nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress & Best Picture, the film certainly seems to be worth a watch. Plus, it stars Bill Engvall’s daughter from The Bill Engvall Show, and yes, she’s the one nominated for Best Actress.

Best of the Rest:


My Neighbor Totoro

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Howl’s Moving Castle

Castle in the Sky

White Chicks

Temple Grandin

Must-See & New In Documentary & TV: The Febuary Edition

9 02 2011



Director(s): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

Rating: R (for language throughout including some descriptions of violence)

Length: 93 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10

One of the films nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Restrepo tells the story of a Platoon deployed in Afghanistan from the time of their deployment, to their return. Think The Hurt Locker, except if The Hurt Locker was made by National Geographic. The war in the Middle East is usually a hard thing to predict, but since it seems like this focuses more on the personal side of the men, I’ll give it a try. The good reviews don’t hurt that much either.

Exit Through The Giftshop:

Director(s): Banksy

Rating: R (for some language)

Length: 87 minutes

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

Also nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Exit Through The Giftshop is a look at Street Art, the modern art scene in general, and the ‘supposed’ people behind it. I say ‘supposed’ since the question of the realism of this film and the authenticity of its events is in question. Nobody even knows exactly what the director, Banksy looks like. Still, his legend in the art scene and its message about said art scene probably makes this worth a watch. I’ll let you know for sure when I check it out for myself.

TV Shows:

Community Season 1:

Starring: Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Gillian Jacobs and Donald Glover

Rating: TV-PG

Length: 25 22-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: When it’s discovered his degree is from the country of Columbia, and not the University, a smooth attorney must go back to community college in order to reclaim his old life. There, he starts a Spanish study group with the various other eccentric students. The show usually revolves around the antics and relationships of the members of this group.

Community is essentially the new Arrested Development. In that, I mean that it’s currently the best comedy on TV right now, that you’re not watching. It’s not quite as bizarre as Arrested Development, but there’s always the great cast of characters to hang onto if a joke doesn’t quite work. And if that fails, a brilliant pop culture reference or three isn’t far behind. The first-half of the season is very rough at times, but when it finally finds its comedic grooves and dynamics, the show is nearly unstoppable. If you only try one episode though, pick “Modern Warfare.” Directed by Justin Lin, who has worked on the last three Fast and Furious films, the episode is an all-out parody of action films set during a fierce game of paintball at the school. It showcases all the best elements of the series and might be one of the most memorable episodes of a comedy series you’re likely to see. I liked this season so much that I went out and bought it.

Modern Family Season 1:

Starring: Ed O’Neill, Sofía Vergara and Julie Bowen

Rating: TV-PG

Length: 24 22-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 9.1/10

Set-Up: Exploring the dynamics of the modern family, the show follows the Pritchetts, who include the father married to a much younger wife, the son who along with his partner try to raise a daughter they just adopted, and the homemaker daughter who’s married whose sometimes-juvenile husband describes himself as the “cool dad.”

The savior of the family sitcom, Modern Family is a light and breezy sitcom in the same vein as the Office, except with less awkwardness.  The laughs are frequent, the characters are lovable, and frankly, its nice to see this amount of diversity on an American TV show. It’s well-written and enjoyable for all ages.

Sherlock Season 1:

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 3 90-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 9.0/10

Set-Up: Set in modern-day London, John Watson has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan when he’s introduced to unofficial police consultant Sherlock Holmes.  The two soon become flatmates and partners in investigating various crimes.

Created by the brilliant Steven Moffat, Sherlock is a clever and fast-paced update on the classic character. It may seem like there’s already too many Sherlock derivatives already gracing TV today, but Moffat’s version pits Sherlock as an eccentric man not too far off from the serial killers he tracks down. The 2nd episode might be worth skipping, but the 1st and 3rd episodes are mind-blowingly good.

We’re Here To Watch Movies, Talk About Movies and Stuff

8 02 2011

The Belk Library at Appalachian State University

Film is as artform unlike any other. Unlike paintings, film actually speaks. Unlike books, film actually shows. Unlike sculptures, film expresses its feelings in a way open to all individuals.

Film touches. Film feels. Film laughs. Film cries. Film thinks. Film laughs. Film scares. Film exites. Film loves. Film comforts. Film stays with you after it’s long over.

I’ve long been a writer of film in various places, but this blog is for ASU students, by an ASU student, watching films he rented from the Belk Library at ASU. Others may share their love as well and may even find useful information, but this will be a prospective-driven blog.

I will list the new releases you should be checking out. I will write about each film, documentary and TV show that I check out from the Belk Library DVD section, and then I will tell you whether it’s worth watching. I have a rating system that is based on the library. John Leguizamo “Read” posters. If the DVD is a must-watch, then it gets 5 Leguizamos. The worst a DVD can get is 1 Leguizamo.

So there you go, I hope this becomes a resource for somebody, or at least introduces one person to one great work they otherwise wouldn’t have viewed without this blog.

Note 1: This blog is not officially associated with Appalachian State University, the North Carolina University System, Belk Library, the North Carolina Library System, or any organizations of any sort. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Note 2: All Leguizamo posters are property of the American Library Association. Thus the copyright found on each poster.