Iraq war miniseries excels in its genre

Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008

'Generation Kill'

We've tried this once before, with "Over There," and the problem that show had was the same problem most movies about the current Iraq war have: baggage. If they don't bring it with them, they expect you to, and in either scenario, the covert preaching that ensues leaves everyone more alienated than enlightened. "Generation Kill," on the other hand, kindly asks you to check your baggage at the door. The opening bell of the war provides the backdrop for this seven-part miniseries, but "Kill" overwhelmingly is about its characters, who in turn are the product of identity and personality rather than a collection of speeches and parables cobbled into human form. The Marines that comprise the bulk of "Kill's" cast aren't an instantly loveable bunch, but the longer you watch them work, the easier it is to like, understand or at least appreciate them. That isn't the same thing, mind you, as liking, understanding or appreciating the situation they're in, and "Kill" manages to accomplish some amazing storytelling without ever forcing the viewer to fall in line with anyone's positive or negative view of the conflict as a whole. That, more than every exciting sequence and every whip-smart dialogue exchange, is what makes this one so much better than its contemporaries.

'Peter & the Wolf'

With respect to the personal computer, 3D modeling software and all they can do to entertain us, there remains something hypnotic about stop-motion animation that, when done with care, achieves unique artistic heights that remain the exclusive domain of the medium. That much and more is evident in "Peter & the Wolf," which brings to life the Sergei Prokofiev story about a boy who attempts to protect his newfound animal friends from a stray wolf. Much in the same way "Wall-E's" first half managed to captivate without so much as a complete sentence of dialogue, "Wolf" goes the whole way without reliance on voice acting, instead using a terrific orchestral score to set the audial tone. "Wolf's" most glaring shortcoming is that, at 32 minutes long, the main program is pretty short. But like any great work of animation, this one merits multiple viewings, each of which undoubtedly will uncover a surprise or momentary visual gem that you might not have spotted the first or second time around.

'Mamma Mia! The Movie: 2-Disc Special Edition'

As often happens when a musical makes that awkward crossover to film country, "Mamma Mia!" comes to us both encumbered and liberated by its roots. No one would be talking about this movie - even if it somehow managed to corral the same cast (Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski and Amanda Seyfried, among others) - were "Mia" not a smash hit on stage first. As such, there's an obligation to remain as true as possible to the source material, and that loyalty occasionally holds the film back. Certain scenes that would command more weight in traditional form succumb to an awkward song instead, and more than once, "Mia" finds itself following a handful of straight-faced scenes with two or three completely distinct numbers that nonetheless feel bunched together. On the other hand? It sure does sound good.

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