Reel Critics: Film based on Costa Mesa's adopted battalion

EntertainmentMoviesJustice SystemTalibanThe Skin I Live In (movie)Documentary (genre)Elena Anaya

The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines is the adopted U.S. Marine Corps unit of Costa Mesa. "Patrol Base Jaker" is a documentary of the deployment of the 1/5 to Afghanistan in 2009-10.

These films usually center on combat operations. But this one zeros in on the vital aftermath of combat: helping the local population to build a secure life.

This film pulls no punches in presenting the complaints of the villagers. The Marines have pushed out the Taliban fighters who took over the area, but severe challenges remain. They must keep the Taliban from returning while assisting the locals in the daunting task of rebuilding their own institutions and security forces.

Lt. Col. Bill McCullough is the Marine Corps' face of the effort. He presents a thoughtful and intelligent approach to gain the confidence of the elders and get the job done.

To see on screen the progress made in the people's lives in less than a year is remarkable. We can only hope they can sustain the effort when these outstanding Marines are gone.

I attended a special screening of the film at Triangle Square to benefit a charitable support group of the unit. The movie will be released to the general public in early 2012.

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Banderas in two very different roles

I saw two movies starring Antonio Banderas that could not be more different.

"Puss in Boots" is a charming spinoff from the "Shrek" movies featuring a vain, Zorro-type adventurer who happens to be a cat. Beautifully animated, it features the voice of Banderas as the smooth-talking Latin lover in his quest for (what else?) magic beans.

There's enough good fun here to please kids and grown ups alike. Salma Hayek makes a feisty foil for Puss as the seductive Kitty Softpaws. Zach Galifianakis' Humpty Dumpty is the best written and drawn character.

Long before he got his fancy footwear, Puss and his cracked little friend were like brothers but then became enemies. Can a handful of beans amount to more than a friendship?

This "Puss" may not have nine lives, but I wouldn't hiss at a sequel.

Banderas plays another delusional, but more sinister Spaniard in "The Skin I Live In." This creepy film from Pedro Almodóvar could be best described as a psychological thriller. Think "Frankenstein" mixed with "Vertigo."

Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon obsessed with his mysterious patient Vera (Elena Anaya). Like a precious doll, Vera is always on display behind her glass-walled room (or is it a prison) for Robert to gaze at. He makes no romantic advances, yet it's clear Vera wants more out of life and their relationship.

This film is quite complicated; perverse, yet elegant. Banderas' character is as mad as the story, and he plays it with delicate finesse — you never know exactly what he's thinking or his motives.

"The Skin I Live In" proved to be a fitting choice for Halloween night. I am still trying to wrap my head around this seductive house of mirrors.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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