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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: A Private War

"Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Not only was 2018 a great year for lead roles for women, it could be argued that it was too good. In addition to the five Best Actress Oscar nominees, there are other exceptional, stand out performances that didn’t make the cut. The one for me that stings the most is Toni Collette not getting nominated (I loathe use of the word “snub”—sounds way too entitled) for “Hereditary” in what I consider to be a career best performance. I also consider the performance of Rosamund Pike in her role as fearless war correspondent Marie Colvin in “A Private War” to be her career best—even better than “Gone Girl,” for which she was nominated four years ago.

“A Private War” opens with voice over from an interview with the real-life Marie Colvin playing over a swooping bird’s eye aerial shot of the blown out buildings in Homs, Syria,  in 2012. I use the word “fearless” very purposely in the above paragraph, because Colvin describes a state of being that is exactly that when she is in horrendous life or death situations. As she says: “Fear comes later.”

We know that Homs, Syria, will play a crucial role in the story since after the movie opens with it, we’re transported back in time and place to London in 2001. Parentheticals indicate that the action takes place 11 years before Homs. The movie repeats this motif in various places as title screens tell us where we are and the year we’re in. It’s a great device for building suspense. We know we will eventually wind up in Homs, but (for those who don’t know the real-life story) we don’t know how, why, or what happened. We just now that we’ll get there. The entire movie is its own two hour version of a ticking clock counting down.

Rosamund Pike doesn’t merely play Marie Colvin in “A Private War.” She inhabits the role. Colvin was already a renowned war correspondent by 2001, having started in 1986, and the years of seeing death, destruction, and the worst examples of man’s inhumanity have taken their toll. At 45 years old she’s had two miscarriages and is in a rocky relationship. On top of this, she chain smokes and consistently drinks to the point of total inebriation. Pike captures all of this so powerfully, mesmerizingly well—a feat even more impressive after Colvin suffers eye damage in an attack and wears an eye patch for most of the rest of the movie. Pike conveys Colvin’s inner struggle with one eye. That’s like boxing with one arm tied behind your back. Not easy, and to be respected when pulled off so well.

There’s a lot of pain Colvin is trying to bury with her drinking—pain she has witnessed and pain that she feels. In spite of it all, she’s able to push through, get out in the harshest conditions and send back reports on horrible atrocities, like mass graves in Iraq or the death of children in Syria. Throughout, she’s haunted by a vision of a dead girl lying on a bed. Knowing her story, it’s hard to be too judgmental about her drinking to cope with the ceaseless struggle going on in her head.

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The blogging keyboard warriors of today who call themselves “journalists” should take note: This is what a real journalist looks like. She cares about having reputable sources, reporting the facts, and telling the stories of regular, average folks who are impacted by the atrocities happening around them. She even appears on CNN—quite possibly the last time that channel had any real news on it. All I know is that today we could use more courageous, fact-based reporters like Marie Colvin and less of the propagandists pushing an agenda who have poisoned so-called mainstream media.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that journalism has devolved to so low a state. To be a reporter like Colvin requires bravery, grit, and determination—all qualities that the way too soft and sheltered, swaddled and coddled young journalists of today lack. That’s because the path is a difficult one. As Colvin points out mid-way through “A Private War,” there are old journalists and there are bold journalists, but there are no old and bold journalists. The choice is similar to the one about living on your knees like a coward or dying on your feet like a hero. Too many journalists today would choose the former over the latter. Perhaps this movie will inspire some of them to change. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch

The skeletal structure of Dr. Seuss’ classic book "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" is still present in the animated feature, “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch.” We have the Grinch (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) who hates Christmas and can’t stand that the Whos down in Whoville all celebrate it with such unabashed glee every year. From high on his mountaintop overlooking Whoville, he hatches a plot to steal Christmas from the town. The pièce de résistance is Christmas Eve night, where the Grinch dresses up as Santa Claus and steals all of the decorations and presents from every house in Whoville. His only encounter with any Who is Cindy-Lou Who (voice of Cameron Seely), a young girl who questions why he’s taking their tree. It’s to fix a light of course.

Though there is more to that encounter in this version of “The Grinch.” Cindy-Lou is no longer just a little kid who woke up and saw Santa. She’s now a scheming, plotting, peppy little girl who just wants to give her mother Donna (voice of Rashida Jones) the present she desperately needs: relief from her hectic life as a full-time worker and single mom.

The Grinch’s plans, which still make up the bulk of the story, are given a bit more detail. For example, he is not totally isolated from Whoville. He needs the community since he does his food shopping there. He’s even made a friend—of sorts, it’s a very one-sided relationship—in Mr. Bricklebaum (voice of Kenan Thompson), a particularly cheerful, if delusional, Whoville inhabitant. He seems to think that he and the Grinch are best friends. The Grinch tries to avoid him at all costs.

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Another addition is that before the Grinch infamously forces his loyal dog Max to pull his sleigh, he recruits a reindeer from the wild. The reindeer is overweight and has a family of his own, so he’s hardly an ideal choice. More than an extraneous character, the reindeer does play a critical role in the climax of “The Grinch.”

What does it all add up to? Depends on who you are. Young children coming into the story for the first time will be engaged by it. If ever shown the half hour cartoon from 1966 that their parents grew up on, they may be disappointed to not see the reindeer or more of a story with Cindy-Lou. However, for anyone who grew up with the cartoon, a lot of the new stuff that is added feels like filler to pad the run time to feature length. I personally like the precision of the half hour story. It hits all of the necessary beats without feeling bloated or repetitive. The beats are also hit in “The Grinch,” but there is a lot of clutter in the way getting from one to the other. Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” mediocre and ridiculous continuation/cash-in on Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander character, here played by Claire Foy looking like a more of a ten year old boy than the actual ten year old boy (Christopher Convery) in the movie; and “The Sisters Brothers,” about an 1850s prospector being chased by two assassins—named the Sisters brothers, starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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