Give Us Three Minutes and We’ll Give You the World

The original version of Robocop hilariously satirizes TV news and television commercials.  Sure, a movie made in the 80’s is bound to get a couple things wrong, but overall it captures the shallowness of modern culture excellently.  Years on our culture still too often feels like an 80’s action movie.

One of the general plot points in the science fiction movie Robocop is that a military industrial corporation is trying to take over the police force of Detroit.  Knowing now how are police have often been militarized, thanks in part to the military industrial complex, a good deal of this movie is still more relevant than one would hope it would be.  

Fury Review and the Mythology of War

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There are some big spoilers for the movie Fury in this post.

Last night I watched the World War II movie Fury, starring Brad Pitt.  I liked it a lot, as I thought it had several things to offer.  With Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and others, there has been no shortage of World War II themed entertainment in recent years.  If someone is going to tell another World War II story there has to be some reason for it to exist.  I think this movie has earned a reason to exist.  Before I start on that I should mention that I was a History Major for most of college and I even took a class on Nazi Germany.  I have read my fair share of World War II books as well.

I felt like this movie was as much about World War II movies, and war movies in general, as it was about the actual war.  First of all the first two thirds of this movie are simply great.  The final act was problematic, but even its problems might have been by design, and it is worth discussing.  The first two thirds of this movie are jet black.  This is definitely war as hell.  Most of the main characters are not even likable.  The performances, cinematography, action, and story are all perfectly orchestrated during this part of the movie.  Even though something like Saving Private Ryan presented the horrors of war, and even showed war crimes near the beginning, there was a sense of the movie paying tribute to the soldiers that fought in World War II.  The world of war in Fury is no place that any sane person would ever want to be.  There is no dignity and nobility displayed for the most part.

Even though I’ve read that the filmmakers of Fury wanted to be historically accurate, and perhaps they were, the battlefield looks like hell in some kind of Italian opera.  Many of the shots seem like different shades of black, with assorted explosions of deep red blood. However, instead of this feeling monochromatic, there is a sense of opera to it.  You don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away.

The tension is unrelenting, whether that is behind the lines or in the battlefield.  There are two scenes worth mentioning.  First there is a tank battle in the middle of the movie that is as well done as any I have ever seen.  It’s claustrophobic, intense, and well orchestrated.  You never lose the sense of what is happening and what is at state.

At the polar opposite, also towards the middle of the movie, there is a scene of character driven drama that is as intense as any battle.  It could almost be in a Kubrick movie.  The soldiers have taken a German town.  One of the main characters in the film is a young inexperienced soldier played by Logan Lerman.  This character is the audiences way into the story.  Despite 10 weeks of training, he knows nothing about what war is like when the movie starts.  Brad Pitt and the other soldiers educate this character on the horrors of war.  Well they are in possession of the German town there is an apartment with two German women, one of whom is young and innocent.  Pitt and Lerman’s character are having a meal with the German women when the rest of the tank crew come in.  Feeling that they are left out, and wanting the spoils of war, there is a psychological battle between the characters where you feel at any moment things could go horribly wrong.  These men have been dehumanized by war.  You do not like them as they behave closer to animals than men.

However, the very next part of the movie is the tank battle I described.  The battle forces these men, who only a shot time ago were at each others throats, into a kind of brotherhood of war.  You root for them when only minutes ago you despised them.  This could symbolize not only how war forms strong bonds between men, but also how as movie goers, through narrative arcs, we often root for people doing horrible things.

The end of the movie is where the tone of the movie really changes.  It is also, depending on how you view the film, where it becomes problematic.  However, I think the problems in the narrative and action are actually by design, and they add to the ideas of the film, rather than detract.  The end of the movie finds the soldiers of a single tank trying to hold a crossroads against an entire German SS Battalion.  The tank is not even fully functional at this point, having lost its mobility to a mine.  The movie almost becomes a typical action movie here, something closer to Rambo than a realistic World War II film.  I won’t spoil the final ending, but lets just say that they kill more Germans than is realistically believable.

Although one could argue that the filmmakers simply gave the movie a big action ending to satisfy filmgoers, I don’t think this is the case.  I don’t think that a movie that was so steeped in horror and believability through the first two thirds of the film, would simply throw that out the window at the end.  The characters go from being highly flawed well written characters to action heroes.  The tank battle that I described above still had a believability and realism to it that this final battle lacks.  But I think the themes of that battle are taken to their logical conclusion here.  This final battle is more symbolic than the rest of the movie.

The final battle is the lie that we have to tell ourselves to keep sending our young men and women into harms way.  It is the construct that we need to have to enjoy ourselves watching violence on screen.  It is the horror and myth of war in the same film.  These are no longer men that have been dehumanized through situations that they have been placed in by others.  These are heroes.  These are people that should be put on a pedestal because they are doing things that are above the actions of mere mortals.  We not only tell ourselves pleasant stories about heroes in real life, but as film goers we allow ourselves to indifferent to any suffering that we see on screen.

This is tough movie, for what is says about war, for what it says about us.

Nicholas Winding Refn Documentary and Interview

Nicholas Winding Refn Documentary

The above article is an interview with director Nicholas Winding Refn and his wife Liv Corfixen,  who just made a documentary about her husband.  He has long been one of my favorite working directors.  All of his movies have a emotionally intense poetic quality to them.  He is someone that can deal in abstraction and have it resonate.  You get a sense that he understands how to communicate on a personal level through imagery.   If you think of how many things have to be put in place for a film image to be just right, that is quite a chore.  One of the best.

Thoughts On the Wolf of Wall Street

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Last night I watched The Wolf of Wall Street for the second time.  I probably enjoyed it even more this time as the movie has so many great performances and scenes.  Even many of the actors that are in the margins of the movie shine.  The movie is long and dense, so I still don’t feel qualified to give it a proper review.  However, there were a couple interesting ideas that I picked up on.

I think it is good that the movie didn’t try too hard to judge the characters.  Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, a great film in its own right, was a condemnation of the kind of behavior that took place on Wall Street in the 80’s and it still ended up serving as inspiration for modern day traders.  The Wolf of Wall Street documents the decadent and depraved nature of its characters, but for the most part it stops at documentation, and doesn’t try to relay any heavy moral message, as that hasn’t really proved effective in the past even when it is extremely well done.

I can’t help but view The Wolf of Wall Street as a comedy about the absurdity of capitalism.  These people are entirely despicable, in every way possible, yet these are the people that run our world.  In the beginning of the movie the working class is portrayed as “suckers” by these people for not having what it takes to get ahead.  Even the other rich, anyone that dares trust these people with their money, are laughed at and mocked.  This movie paints our whole capitalist system as some kind of perverse joke.  One of the most telling scenes in the movie is when Jordan Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, changes the name of his company to Stratton Oakmont to give it a respectable old money waspish sounding name.  Respectability is nothing but an illusion used to steal money from the “suckers” of the world.

But again this movie treats these people as animals in the zoo.  They are not so much treated as bad guys, but as a strange species that we allow to roam, to the detriment of all.  They make a mockery of our society, because we let them.

Best Movies of 2014 Not At Oscars

Best Films of 2014 That You Won’t See At Oscars

The article linked above is a list of the best movies that came out in 2014 that aren’t part of the Oscars.  In truth, I have only seen one of these movies, so I can’t vouch for this list.  However, the movie I did see, Under the Skin, was easily one of the best movies that I saw last year, so I am willing to give the list the benefit of doubt.  Under the Skin is a science fiction movie starring Scarlett Johansson.  It has a slow art-house pace to it, though it is clearly made by a filmmaker that knows how to produce incredibly striking images.  It is also the best kind of science fiction film, one that will make you reflect on the world around you.

Matt Taibbi On American Sniper, Hollywood, and War

Matt Taibbi

This is another article from the always interesting Matt Taibbi, about not only the movie American Sniper, but also the way Hollywood distorts war. 

I have read several books about how the military influences the outcome of movies and how entertainment is taking over every aspect of life.  On the first subject, a real simple fact:  The military will give access to military equipment to productions that paint the military in a favorable light.  If a production does not paint the military in a favorable light, they will not get that access, which in turn can often lead to increased budgets.  As I do not know the backstory, although it very well may pertain to this film, this is not to imply that this is the case with American Sniper.  

My point in any post is not to pass judgment on a film I have not seen, nor to present facts that I don’t know.  I simply want people to think critically when going to movies that have a political nature to them.  Movies take millions of dollars to get made.  What is a movie trying to say?  Who benefits both monetarily and ideologically from a film?  If the movie is a fictionalized version of real events, what are the distortions and why were they made?  These kinds of questions and more should be asked when seeing a movie of any political stripe. 

And yes I said I would not put up any more thoughts having to do with American Sniper until I had seen it. However, I thought this article was too thought provoking not to share. I also think that it deals with ideas and themes outside the orbit of that single film.

American Sniper: Divide and Conquer

I want to talk one last time about the controversy surrounding the movie American Sniper, at least until I’ve seen it.  So much of history has been divide and conquer.  You saw this in the South during Reconstruction, where poor blacks and whites were pitted against each other instead of forming a union against the oppressive few.  But it seems like, concerning the movie, you have one side claiming that we shouldn’t make mythical heroes out of trained killers, and the other claiming that we should honor all of our men and women in uniform.  Both arguments can have their valid points, depending on the context and how they are made.  However, why argue over this when both sides should be arguing for peace?  Peace will prevent innocent lives being lost on either side of the divide.  Peace will ensure that our men and women don’t have to kill in our names.  It will also ensure that these men and women don’t come home maimed, psychologically damaged, or worst of all, in body bags.  Yet while our positions harden as insults from both sides reign down, over a fucking movie, the “owners” are planning the next geopolitical move that will lead to more death.