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The Water Diviner

Water Diviner

Rusty still has that "I'd kill you for the sandwich you're
eating" look in his eye, even in his attempt at 'prestige'
award bait drama! Is there nothing he can't not do?

dir: Russell Crowe

2014

I never thought I’d be typing the words “dir: Russell Crowe” at the beginning of one of my reviews, but then we live in a brave, new world where anything is apparently possible.

Anything is possible, to the extent that Crowe could make and star in a flick set around Gallipoli, and that it actually ends up being an okay film that I enjoyed.

Even more perplexing is that this is one of the few flicks I can think of where the Australians aren’t praised to the high heavens for their sun bronzed bravery on the sands of Gallipoli, and the Turks aren’t demonised for their actions defending their homeland. It may be this great nation’s foundation myth, but its utility in magnifying how great we Aussies truly are (for dying in great numbers in the service of the British Empire) isn’t used here.

It’s a far more personal story, in that it’s mostly about one chap (Crowe, good ol’ Australia’s Own Kiwi Rusty Crowe) trying to find the remains of his three sons who went and died on the shores of Gallipoli. So it’s not about re-prosecuting the war, or depicting a bunch of larrikins fighting and dying in splendidly heroic ways: it’s about a father wanting to fulfil his wife’s most heartfelt wish that her boys, if only in spirit, could be brought home to her.

Rating:

American Sniper

American Sniper

America? Fuck Yeah!
Coming again to save the motherfuckin' day, yeah!

dir: Clint Eastwood

2014

I know there’s a lot of controversy surrounding this flick. There are probably some ethical and moral arguments to be listened to and appreciated. Whenever American right-wing nutjobs start praising something to the high heavens, and attacking people who have issues with it as being commies and traitors, I reflexively think the thing they’re praising most likely has to be a piece of shit that pushes all the right buttons that so need pressing.

Well, the nutters are out in all their nutty glory about this flick, and it has made a ridiculous amount of money thus far. I still want to approach it from as objective a perspective as I can.

Thing is, I can’t. I can’t be objective about it. I love snipers too much. I know how shallow this is going to make me sound, but of all the slayers on the battlefield, American or not, it’s the sniper I’ve always thought had the hardest and ‘coolest’ job.

One of my favourite war movies ever is Enemy at the Gate. It’s still my favourite, because this flick doesn’t supplant it one bit.

I think American Sniper has its boosters seeing what they want to see in it (and ignoring the inconvenient aspects), and its detractors doing the same. I don’t feel any particular need to be either for or against it, so I can appreciate it or not solely as a Clint Eastwood film.

Rating:

Fury

Fury

He looks a bit sad, doesn't he? Do you think he might cry?

dir: David Ayer

2014

Fury. Pure, unalloyed Fury.

That’s what I felt after paying good money (I received free tickets) to see this flick. Actually, it’s not a feeling I had afterwards, it’s a feeling I felt while watching it, which tempered to relief when it ended.

And the thing is, it’s not because it’s a particularly bad film. I am not sure whether, objectively speaking, it’s a good or bad film. I can’t say I’m sure either way objectively speaking about any of the flicks I see and review. I’m at slightly more of a loss than usual with this one.

See, there are these scenes of great ugliness that horrified me or made me uncomfortable, but if that was the intention, surely it’s not a failing of the film? It’s a failing of mine if it repulsed me in the sense that it made me dislike the film even if it strove for and achieved what it set out to achieve.

As I said, it confuses me somewhat. Fury is not in the grand tradition of American war movies that posit the hallowed idea of War is Hell, but We Were Righteous and Awesome and We Won. I don’t think I saw a single rah rah American flag floating in a slow motion breeze. There wasn’t a plaintive trumpet playing a variation on the Last Post throughout the soundtrack. There wasn’t any nobility, patriotism or any “tell my wife I love her”, or “I am glad I am dying for my country” type bullshit.

Rating:

The Monuments Men

Monuments Men

Monumental men doing manly stuff that's less than monumental

dir: George Clooney

Is a work of art worth as much or more than a human life?

It's not just the central question of this film, asked out loud literally, multiple times, in case we didn't get the point. It's an important question in anyone's life.

It's also not a question Clooney should be getting the audience to ask themselves as they watch one of his movies.

"Sure, films can be works of art, but no-one should have to take a bullet for a film by George Clooney".

The film, The Monuments Men, asks and answers the question several times, with a different answer at the beginning versus at the end, but it's not entirely convincing.

It's convincing as a film, since there are people in it, and the story has an intriguing premise, is a true story, and has a whole bunch of other reasons to recommend it. It will bore the pants off of people who aren't interested in the subject matter or who were hoping for Saving Private Ryan II. It transpires during World War II, but it is not a war movie in the usual sense of the genre, though it uses all of the tropes from All Quiet on the Western Front through to M*A*S*H, and many cliches in between.

It's not a great film, but it's not a completely horrible one either. It looks at the war from another perspective beyond the immense human toll, which, surely, we needed, but in a way rarely considered.

Rating:

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Keep an eye on the silverware as well, with this one.

dir: Brian Percival

2013

Homework. Some books feel like homework. Some movies feel like homework.

Now, please don’t start interpreting this as veiled or unveiled anti-Semitism: I am not going to launch into Holocaust-denying or Climate Change-denying or arguing that there's empathy fatigue because of the sheer quantity of books and movies about World War II and the Nazis and the Final Solution. It's great, wonderful, we need more of them, surely.

It's just that, well, since high school, where we had to study books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie and had to be taken along as a class to see Schindler's List, I just automatically associate World War II - Weren't Those Nazis Total Bastards? narratives to be somewhat obligatory and something tedious. I feel like I'm watching it or reading about it because I have to write a 500 word essay about it to be handed in first thing first period.

But of course, writing a review about it is a completely different prospect! I initially read the book years ago, thinking I would hate it, actively hating it when I started, but I was won over as it went on. There was something about how it was calculatedly put together, and the clumsiness of the narrator as Death, or Death as the narrator, I guess more appropriately, that brought my hackles up. The hackles came down over time as Liesel and her story moved me in appreciable ways.

Rating:

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Fear the flag, sure, but fear the redhead more

dir: Kathryn Bigelow

Torture is awesome! Who knew?!?

Obviously it’s not as wonderful to the people it happens to, but, for the rest of us, it works beautifully. It’s effective. It’s necessary. It’s entertaining. It’s awesome.

Zero Dark Thirty is less about the hunting down of Bin Laden like the dog that he was, than it is about how one woman’s, and the CIA’s, determination to do anything including torture to get him (and her capacity for overacting) are the only reasons they ever found the fucker.

First, we have to endure a lengthy justification for the torture, in the form of audio recordings of soon-to-be victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Talk about moral blackmail. The film is practically daring you to disagree that any actions taken by the US and its allies after that dread day were so utterly justifiable that you deserve to be shot out of a cannon if you think otherwise.

We meet Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she watches a torture session, with rough justice being meted out by some other CIA guy (Australia’s Own Jason Clarke). He’s really good at his work, but he doesn’t love doing it. We get the clear impression that he’s not a sadist, that he doesn’t “like” what he’s doing, but he sees the sadly necessary utility of it. Poor diddums.

Rating:

Act of Valor

Act of Valor

Terrorist, your game is through, 'cause now you'll l have to
answer to: America! Fuck Yeah!

dirs: Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh

Act of Valor, presumably, refers to a specific act of conspicuous bravery above and beyond the usual, everyday bravery people exhibit. The heroes on display here, we would guess, commit these acts on a second-to-second basis. They live and breathe valour, as they are warriors of the highest calibre dealing out and embracing death for the protection of all good people everywhere. Well, at least of good Americans everywhere.

The only act of valour on our part is the potential willingness to hand money over for what is essentially a curious recruiting product meant to remind us of nothing else so much as USA! USA! USA!

People have shelled money out, though, a lot of money. This movie has more than made its money back already. And yet you’d not call most of what happens here a movie, per se.

It’s more like a very serious training video, one with a great deal of verisimilitude (I’m guessing, because I’ve never been a Navy SEAL myself as yet, though, you never know, there’s always time). It’s also very mindful of the aesthetics of first person shooters (computer games where the field of view is first person, and a weapon is ever present as you ‘walk’ through a three-dimensional environment), replicating the visual image continuously, to make the audience feel not like they’re there themselves, but that they’re playing the game they’re watching.

Rating:

Red Tails

Red Tails

The actors are more fake than the CGI

dir: Anthony Hemingway

It’s a story that’s been told a few times, but one that bears repeating, and that is clearly deserving of a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. Also, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen deserves all the attention George Lucas, his money, and his film technology can bring to the experience, surely.

After all, don’t African American actors deserve, at long last, to repeat all the corn, cheese and clichés of the Hollywood war movies of yesteryear they were so unfairly segregated from? Aren’t they due their dues by now, at long last, in this enlightened age?

Red Tails, in case you didn’t know and probably don’t care, is a story about African American pilots during World War II. It is a story George Lucas wanted to tell for decades, apparently, because of his deep connection to the subject matter(?) Look, I don’t know his real reasons, because who knows why he really does half of the stuff he does, as opposed to his publicly stated reasons. Does anyone on the planet really understand why it meant so much to him that Han Solo shooting Greedo first had to be expunged from the official record, despite the fact that we all saw it happen?

Rating:

Coriolanus

Coriolanus

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a flick about soccer hooligans.
Come on you Reds!

dir: Ralph Fiennes

Speaking of Shakespeare, as I was in that recent review for Anonymous: damn, he really wrote, whoever it was, a lot of plays, thirty-eight in fact. I mean, that’s prolific. And, as with any prolific authors, they’ve got stuff no-one wants to know about, Kenneth Brannagh doesn’t want to direct, and Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t want to star in.

So it’s left up to Ralph Fiennes, still smarting from his goofy brother Joseph Fiennes getting to play the Bard in Shakespeare in Love, to direct and star in Coriolanus.

They used to think it was based on someone who really existed, and something that really happened, but it probably didn’t. That doesn’t stop a Fiennes, though, does it? And it hardly matters for the purposes of whether we’re entertained or not.

It’s set in somewhat ‘modern’ times, though the empire depicted is the Roman one, so all the references are old timey. I’ve also heard, though it’s not obvious from watching it, Fiennes’ intention was to make it look like the Balkans in the 90s, when European unity (and contemporary genocide) was at its finest.

Rating:

War Horse

War Horse

There's something to be said about the love of a boy for his horse. Well, not that much,
really.

dir: Spielbergo

It’s not much of a stretch to say that Spielbergo gets to make whatever films he wants in ways that most other directors couldn’t dream of.

It’s not his skills as a director that I’m referring to; it’s the fact that he’s Spielbergo: the most successful director in the medium and in the industry thus far in the last 110 years. He's someone who makes any movie with the understanding that the payment for his services is 30% of the gross box office earned by whatever film he puts out there.

Few people have that level of clout. Peter Jackson is the only other one I know of. Let’s not get bogged down into the merits of such a system, since all I wanted to point out, which, in retrospect, is pretty obvious, is that he gets to make whatever flick he wants to make in whatever way he wants to.

So if he wants to make a flick set during World War I about a lucky horse and the boy from Devon who loves him, and all the people whose lives are touched by the horse as he makes his journey through that despicable war, well, that’s what he does.

And that’s what the pretty literal title refers to: War Horse is about a horse that goes to war. How’s that for subtlety?

Rating:

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