Reel Critics: The Russian 'Private Ryan'

The vicious battle for Stalingrad between Hitler's Wehrmacht and the ragtag Soviet army was the turning point of World War II. The story of this fight has been told in many films, most notably 2001's "Enemy at the Gates." That film featured the cruel tactics supervised by Nikita Khrushchev and the role of his celebrated sniper corps.

The new film "Stalingrad" spotlights the common Russian soldiers who fought and died by the thousands to save the city from German occupation.

This movie's impact is magnified because it was produced and filmed in Russia by those who know this story as a national milestone. The father of director Fedor Bondarchuk was a soldier in the Red Army in WWII.

The plot includes a back story found in many many American war films. Several soldiers from widely different backgrounds come together to form the makeshift squad of the legendary tale. Their interactions with each other and the local civilians often take an overly sentimental turn.

But this film is the highest-grossing picture ever released in its home country for good reason. The production values and outstanding special effects make it the "Saving Private Ryan" of Russian cinema.

Fans who appreciate realistic R-rated combat scenes will be completely immersed in the giant IMAX format and convincing 3-D action.

—John Depko


'Non-Stop' is part nonsense

Hunky Liam Neeson once again proves he's not to be trifled with in "Non-Stop," an enjoyable thriller thanks to his brooding, stalwart presence.

Bill Marks (Neeson) is a tower of walking melancholy bound for London. He is eyed suspiciously by the head flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) and arouses our curiosity as well. We all know something bad is going down, but is he the bad guy?

Bill is actually an air marshal on duty, and no sooner does he sneak a cigarette in the lavatory than he gets a text message about it. Someone is watching him and says he will kill a passenger every 20 minutes. This is no mere threat from a rabid nonsmoker — this is an extortionist seeking $150 million.

Bill springs into marshal mode, but others are less than quick to believe him. Naturally, Bill has to crack a few heads and necks until they see it his way.

"Non-Stop" offers some good twists and a lot of mystery and suspense. It's a shame most of the other actors, including Julianne Moore, don't have much to do besides look nervous.

But the momentum starts to falter when the entire plane thinks Bill is the crazed hijacker, forcing him to bare his soul and admit he's an alcoholic, and they all believe him. Now that's acting!

When the seats are returned to an upright position and the real villain is revealed, the story takes a dive at ludicrous speed.

Still, it's fun to watch the star of the "Taken" movies in fighting shape. How lucky we are that Liam doesn't break, bruise, scorch or need oxygen in the event of an emergency.

—Susanne Perez

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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